A friend asks for facts about Joe Biden, without mentioning Donald Trump, to help her decide. Not comprehensive, but this is what I wrote her after spending 15 minutes on the question (and a few more refining for this post):
An election is a binary choice. This year’s is between an incumbent with a four-year record and a challenger whose public service stretches over decades. Biden’s record includes serving in the constitutionally useless job of vice president, in which at the president’s direction he was a minister without portfolio. Among his tasks: coordinating the 2009 expenditure of nearly $800 billion in stimulus spending approved by Congress (far less than needed) and the government’s response that year to the H1N1 virus, which originated here, posed a worldwide threat and ended up killing about 14,000 in the U.S. over two years. Having served in the White House for eight years, he has an intimate understanding of the operations of the executive branch.
Biden’s experience as a legislator is less relevant, because those skills are different. But he negotiated a lot of policies with his former Senate colleagues, including the outlines of Obamacare and a big tax bill in 2012. I didn’t like the outcomes of these negotiations, because my side lost too much. But of course negotiations involve compromise, and the deals achieved were better than no deal – or so both sides thought. Biden’s experience in the Senate is relevant to governing, because Congress writes most of our policies.
I’m not a huge Biden fan, because he’s too moderate for my taste. That is, his policy prescriptions don’t go far enough. But having policy prescriptions is not the same as achieving them. I think he can get some of them done, especially those under the control of the executive branch.
And the policies that have been promulgated by this executive over the last four years are a disaster for life as we know it on the planet, to our aspirational values, to the maintenance and strengthening of the functions of government which we have collectively asked of it over the past 160 years. The government’s scientific expertise has been systematically dismantled, everything from agriculture to atmosphere. The EPA has been turned into an instrument for polluters through the promulgation of regulations that harm our air, water and earth. The CDC has been transformed from the most respected disease-fighting institution in the world into a propaganda arm of the White House. These developments have occurred because the president has appointed political hacks in every agency in order to, as Steve Bannon put it, “deconstruct the administrative state.” For what purpose? To increase corporate profits.
In my particular area of expertise, tax policy, which I have been studying since 1981, the 2017 tax bill is the sloppiest law I’ve ever seen, so slapdash that my former colleagues in a “big four” accounting firm have spent years trying to understand and convey its meaning to clients. The IRS just issued regulations on one section of that law (I’m lobbying the Oregon legislature on it now), trying to make sense of the mishmash Congress created. On the whole, however, I would testify that the result of the law was to shift the tax burden from the richest Americans to the middle class. My own federal taxes went up $1400 in 2018, compared to what they would have been without the law. I don’t mind paying more taxes to enhance the quality of life in America. I resent it when my increased burden is used to reduce taxes on the wealthiest 1 or one-half percent, which that law demonstrably did.
Trump’s withdrawal from international treaties, including the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, as well as from the World Health Organization and other bodies, has made the world more dangerous.
Our border policy is an affront to our values.
You asked for facts about Biden. My assessment is that Biden would do what he can, with or without the support of Congress, to reverse as many of these policies as possible. I doubt he can reverse all of them. The institutional hollowing over the last four years cannot be rebuilt in a year or 10. For example, the Agricultural Research Service scientists who quit when the secretary moved the headquarters from D.C. to Kansas City will not return. (The purpose of the move was to silence publication of the evidence of climate change effects on crop yields.) But a new generation may be recruited that is interested in bettering our lives. That will take many years. The same is likely true of many other agencies.
By far the most important issue of this election is whether we will elect a party that is dedicated to denying the right to vote to Americans it judges oppose its priorities. Two decades ago, I watched as henchmen in the employ of the George W. Bush campaign stopped the vote recount in Miami-Dade. It was called the “blue blazer riot.” It became a template for the war on voting that we now see across the country, instigated at every level of the Republican Party:
- The Florida legislature’s successful effort to eviscerate Amendment 4, passed by two-thirds of voters to restore voting rights to ex-felons
- The census citizenship question, designed to suppress the count and thus diminish fair representation in the House of Representatives
- The destruction of the Post Office, for a trifecta of purposes: privatize it, delay mail-in balloting, and wreck a daily link between citizens and their government
- The Supreme Court’s effective repeal of the Voting Rights Act, a decision under which GOP-controlled state governments have purged voting rolls, reduced the number of places citizens can vote and even drop off absentee ballots, and created additional obstacles to the franchise
- The party’s recruitment this year of lawyers and other volunteers to, respectively, contest votes and challenge individual voters at polling places, the intent of which is to create chaos, delay the count and flip the outcome to the Supreme Court
These are elements of a campaign to destroy fair representation of us, whatever we choose. It is the disease of our time, though it dates to the antebellum defense of slavery: you don’t matter. My vote this year, in part, is a vote for: you do matter; you get to have a voice in government, even if I disagree with you. That alone is why I’m voting for Biden.
Oh. And because he wears a mask in the middle of a pandemic.