Former Vice President Joe Biden has jumped to a surprisingly large lead in the Democratic race. But in an era when Democrats are increasingly young, racially diverse, and socialist, are they really about to nominate a 76-year-old white male from the establishment wing of the party? The bigger problem with Biden of course is his political record — from his role in the Anita Hill hearings to his vote for the 1994 crime bill to his cozy relationship with the credit card industry. On this week’s Deconstructed, Mehdi Hasan is joined by author and political commentator Rebecca Traister to discuss the trouble with “Uncle Joe.”
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Rebecca Traister: He’s the guy who is so familiar. He is the middle of the road, I take the train, Amtrak, Delaware, folksy, aw shucks, not a woman, not a person of color, not gay, right? Like, he’s all the things that revert back to who historically had always had the grip on power and the reassurance that that kind of person might still have the grip on power.
MH: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan. Is Joe Biden really the person to lead the Democrats to victory come November 2020? Is he the man who can beat Donald Trump and reach the parts of the Trump electorate that other Democrats can’t? Or is that just a bunch of dangerous nonsense?
RT: I think it is patently absurd the notion that he thinks he’s the future of a party where in fact, he’s been one of the backbones of it for the better part of five decades.
That’s my guest, the acclaimed writer and author Rebecca Traister. We’ll be talking about Biden’s awful record in office as well as his mastery of mis-judgement. So, on today’s show, get ready: it’s the case against former Vice President Joseph Robinette Biden Junior – and, yeah, that’s really his middle name.
Joe Biden [at rally]: I know how to make government work.
JB: Not because I’ve talked or tweeted about it but because I’ve done it. I’ve worked across the aisle to reach consensus, helped make government work in the past. I can do that again with your help. For me, for me, to me, our principles must never be compromised but compromise itself is not a dirty word.
MH: That was former Vice President Joe Biden speaking at a rally in Philadelphia on Saturday and formally announcing the launch of his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. He’s been the favorite for a while and has been consistently leading in the polls for several months now. Which is kinda odd in some ways, given he’s a 76-year-old white dude, with very few actual policies, in a party that’s been getting younger, more female and increasingly non-white in recent years.
Then there’s his tendency to make gaffes, his mastery of mis-judgement. Here’s just a small selection of things he’s said in the past couple of months alone, starting with his failure to apologize to Anita Hill for throwing her under the bus in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearings he chaired back in 1991.
JB [on The View]: I’m sorry the way she got treated. If you go back and look what I said and didn’t say, I don’t think I treated her badly.
MH: At a time when everyone in his party is dumping on the 1994 Crime Bill, including the president Bill Clinton who signed it, Biden made sure to remind us that it wasn’t all bad.
JB [at rally]: Because when we did the Crime Bill, everybody talks about the bad things. Let me tell you about to good thing in the Crime Bill. It’s the one that had the assault weapons ban. It limited the number of bullets in a clip.
MH: And insisted, ludicrously, that the party that spent a year refusing to allow Barack Obama to fill a Supreme Court seat, spent many years investigating Hillary Clinton over absurd Benghazi conspiracy theories, and basically set new records for congressional obstruction of a president, that party is going to suddenly embrace “bipartisanship” — and embrace him! — the moment he is elected:
JB [on MSNBC]: The thing that will fundamentally change next is with Donald Trump out of the White House. Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.
MH: In the midst of scandals surrounding his infamous “handsy-ness” with women, the former vice president made this “joke,” with his arm around a small child.
JB: By the way, he gave me permission to touch him.
MH: Hilarious! Or how about this, straight after.
JB: I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I’ve never been disrespectful intentionally.
MH: “I’m not sorry for anything I have ever done.” Biden referring there to his treatment of women but in many ways that comment applies across the board. He’s never really expressed a proper, meaningful, genuine apology for some of the horrific things in his record like his championing of the Crime Bill or his strong support for the Iraq war in 2003 or the fact that he basically helped the credit card industry get away with all sorts of shit for years.
I want to talk about his record and his positions with my guest Rebecca Traister in a moment but before I do, permit me to say a few words about the word that’s most associated with Joe Biden these days: electability. There is this argument that whatever you think of Biden, and wherever you are on the political spectrum, if you want Trump to lose in 2020, the Democrats’ best bet is good ol’ Joe Biden. He’s electable.
News anchor: Many Democrats, their most important issue is electability.
News anchor: And right now, polls indicate that Joe Biden would be that most electable person.
News anchor: Poll after poll shows that voters believe, rightfully or not, that Biden is the most electable even if they don’t love his policies.
MH: Now I tend to think that what most people really mean by electable is that he’s a white dude, an older white dude and the only person who can beat Trump, they think, is an old white man. Indeed Biden is presented by his supporters and by huge chunks of the media as some sort of white working class voter whisperer. The champion and hero of the Rust Belt. The blue collar candidate. But where is the evidence for any of these claims? I haven’t seen it. It’s just asserted, as fact. But look at Biden’s actual electoral record.
Eleven years ago in 2008, he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination and came a humiliating fifth in Iowa with less than one percent of the vote, less than one percent. He dropped out. Twenty years earlier, in the race for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination, Biden was caught up in a plagiarism scandal. He dropped out.
JB: I do it with incredible reluctance and it makes me angry. I’m angry with myself for having been put in the position, put myself in the position of having to make this choice.
MH: And here yet we are, yet again, with Biden in the race for 2020. Third time lucky, I guess. Don’t forget also his career as a United States senator from the tiny state of Delaware. In 36 years running for office every six years in Delaware, he faced just one competitive race. That’s it. One. Right at the beginning. Back in 1972.
So I ask again: where is this evidence that he’s some major vote-winner? That he reaches parts of the electorate that other Democratic candidates don’t? I mean, I guess he was part of the winning Democratic presidential ticket in 2008 and 2012 but is anyone seriously going to argue that Barack Obama would not have won those races had Joe Biden not been on the ticket? Seriously? In fact, and I know we have such short memories in the media, but we’ve known for a while that Obama’s top aides considered replacing Biden on the ticket in 2012, with Hillary Clinton, because they thought Clinton would give them a boost in the polls. Oh, the irony!
And I’m also reminded of the fact that just as Biden is seen as the candidate of the white working class in this 2020 Democratic race, so was Hillary Clinton in the 2008 Democratic race, and we know how that turned out in the end.
Look, I suspect Biden’s lead is gonna start coming down. It’s still a long time till the Iowa caucuses which are more than 8 months away. The first televised debates are next month and I think you’ll see the gaffe-prone, policy-free former vice president struggle, and take some hits on stage from the likes of Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and even Kamala Harris.
Kamala Harris: Well, I have a great deal of respect for Vice President Joe Biden but I disagree with him. That 1994 Crime Bill, it did contribute to mass incarceration in our country.
MH: People say ‘electable, electable,’ but this is the era of Donald J. Trump. Does anyone even know what electable means anymore? What counts as electable? Never forget: In 2016, 17 Republicans ran for their party’s presidential nomination and the guy from Home Alone 2 won. So, anyone who tells you at this stage, that Biden has got this in the bag, is either a liar or a fool.
MH: Let’s see if my guest today agrees with me. She’s one of my favorite writers right now – she’s writer-at-large for New York magazine and The Cut, and a contributing editor at Elle Magazine. She’s the author of among other books, “Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger.” And she’s also written an essay which I urge you all to read after you finish listening to this show, headlined: “Joe Biden Isn’t The Answer.” Rebecca Traister, joins me now.
Rebecca, thanks for being here on Deconstructed.
RT: Thank you so much for having me.
MH: In your New York Magazine essay from March, which I loved, on Biden, you say he’s the champion the protector of “that guy” in the diner. You say he himself is “that guy.” Who is that guy?
RT: That guy is the sort of prototypical imagined voter and often in fact, the politician that a Democratic party in my view turned to very soon after the transformative and disruptive social movements of the mid-to-late 20th century. So, the Women’s Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, the Gay Rights Movement, after which there was a kind of partisan realignment in which a Democratic party suddenly found itself in the 1970s and moving into what was going to become the Reagan Revolution as the party that was defending civil rights, women’s rights, these newly won liberties for people who historically had been very marginalized. And the party itself, which was still run by white men imagined the American voter to be the white man, you know —
MH: In the diner?
RT: In the diner now, I think. I don’t know if the diner’s were as hot in the 1970s as they are now. But Biden is, he’s that guy. He’s the guy who is so familiar. He is the middle of the road, I take the train, Amtrak, Delaware, folksy, aw shucks, not perfect, not polished, not ivy league, not a woman, not a person of color, not gay, right? Like, he’s all the things that revert back to who historically had always had the grip on power and the reassurance that that kind of person might still have a grip on power. And it’s not just, I’m not talking about just the fact that he’s a white guy. I want to be really clear about that, right? He was a white guy who ran in the early 70s for a Senate seat on a civil rights platform and then made a turn on busing and desegregation efforts, right?
RT: Anti-busing, became anti-busing. He had run on a busing platform, but then when he was met — you know, when when we had these transformative moments, I think, movements, we often talk about them because they are now decades in the past. I think we forget how disruptive they were to the fabric of daily life and to politics but there was pushback to them, right? That pushback in part fuels Reagan and the rise of the right in the 1980s. And so, when Joe Biden gets into office, he faces pushback from many of his white constituents in Delaware and he turns on busing and actually, in his public turn on busing, he gives cover to other white Democrats who then also turn on busing and ultimately, the busing legislation is defeated. So, that’s one example.
He is also from the beginning, anti-abortion. He gets sworn into office weeks before Roe v. Wade has decided in 1973. And in 1976, the Hyde Amendment, a legislative rider that prohibits the use of federal insurance programs to pay for abortions thereby making abortion inaccessible to low-income women, Joe Biden votes for it even in his earliest incarnations, which didn’t have exceptions for life and health of the mother and rape and incest. That’s where he is on abortion in the beginning.
MH: So, you talked about disruptive periods. We are in a pretty disruptive period right now, I think it’s fair to say. You say in your piece to Biden is seen as “the best and safest candidate to get us out of this perilous and scary political period,” and then you add, “But the irony is that so much of what is terrifying and dangerous about this time are in fact, problems that can be laid at the feet of Joe Biden himself and the guys we have regularly been assured are Democrats’ only answer.” Some might say that’s a bit unfair. Are you saying Biden is to blame for Trump?
RT: I’m not saying it’s Joe Biden’s fault. What I’m saying is the failure of the party that he’s been senior within in one capacity or another, as a senator and then as a vice president, has not aggressively defended the very freedoms that were won in that disruptive period, right? So, if you look at everything from the Voting Rights Act, Roe, they’re a whole set of actual changes that happened that are precisely what made everybody so uncomfortable, right? New kinds of freedoms, protections, opportunities for kinds of people who’d been denied them in the past. So, the Democratic party to my mind, has not vociferously and energetically defended those wins. They’ve been in retreat from them. They’ve behaved defensively.
Joe Biden is emblematic of that. Is it Joe Biden’s fault? No, but the fact for example, that he did vote for Hyde and supported it for a long time — and as recently as 2007, by the way, was still saying that he didn’t — yes, he’d gotten better on abortion, but still sort of, saw it in this paternalistic way. He just wants to help young women not have to make hard decisions or whatever. He’s also the guy who oversaw the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings. He is the man who was in charge of the Judiciary Committee. He had to be pressed and essentially have his hand forced in order to let Anita Hill testify to begin with that she had been sexually harassed —
MH: And he blocked others from coming forward to testify.
RT: — And he blocked, there were three other women who were willing to come forward to back up Anita Hill. He did not let them testify and Clarence Thomas got confirmed.
MH: And what’s amazing about politics, and people don’t recognize this, I think — we live in such a cynical age, but actually, people are very generous, I’ve noticed over the years and I’ve obviously worked in political journalism on both sides of the Atlantic. An apology gets you quite far.
RT: A genuine apology gets you —
MH: Even not that genuine, apologies that you somehow pretended —
RT: That’s true, that’s true.
MH: He doesn’t even bother to do that. When you take Anita Hill, the guy had what? Twenty-odd years? More than 20 years.
RT: Twenty-seven years.
MH: Twenty-seven years. I’m going to run for president. In between, he did run for president. We’ll come to that in a moment. And yet, he never does an apology and on the eve of his candidacy, he rings her up and he still doesn’t apologize.
RT: It’s not a good apology! He doesn’t apologize.
MH: He’s so bad at this stuff.
RT: And even after she has come out and said actually, that’s not, that doesn’t do it for me. He then within days of Anita Hill publicly saying this is not, this hasn’t miraculously, hasn’t won me over. He goes in public and says, I don’t think I treated her very badly, which is wrong.
RT: It is incorrect. It is factually incorrect. He also speaks about those hearings — as he speaks about so much, I noticed he just made comments about the Hyde Amendment that are similar — he speaks in a passive sense.
JB: I wish I could have done more to prevent those questions the way they asked them. I hope my colleagues learned from that, learned from that. She deserves to be treated with dignity.
RT: I wish I could have done more.
MH: He was a passerby not the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
RT: He ran the fucking Judiciary Committee. It was his choice who testified. It was, he had the ability, those, if you go back and watch a lot of people — it is now 28 years ago — a lot of people don’t remember or didn’t watch, have been born since. If you go back and watch Anita Hill’s testimony and the way that she was treated by his colleagues, colleagues he says warm things about all the time. That’s part of his sell right now —
MH: Republicans are friends of his.
RT: In 2020, right, there good Republicans and the system works because I would go down and have lunch. I’d fight like hell with them on the floor and then I’d go down and have lunch with them afterwards. The system worked, right? These are his buddies. In fact, it is on record that one of the reasons he said he didn’t want to hear Hill’s testimony was because he had promised a Republican colleague in the Senate gym that it would be a quick confirmation process. So, these are his buddies and he does not stop them, defend her, reprimand them, point out the grotesque way they’re treating her. He didn’t do any of that and he had the power.
And it’s the same thing — I saw over the weekend, I believe a representative from the ACLU got him at an event and said I need to know, do you still support the Hyde Amendment? Because Biden has the story about him as he’s come around on abortion, even though, I think he still uses incredibly paternalistic language about it and he failed to support the Freedom of Choice Act which in theory would have prevented a lot of these state measures severely limiting or banning abortion from going through. He did not support that. But purportedly, he’s gotten better. So, a woman gets to him at an event and says, this is just within the past few days, do you still support the Hyde Amendment? And I believe what he says is yeah, it’s got to go. It’s got to go. Now, it does have to go. But the idea that he had no role in it being the law of the land for these 43 years?
MH: Isn’t the problem, Rebecca, that that works for a lot of people? A lot of people aren’t going to, either weren’t born then, don’t remember what happened then, or aren’t going to back on YouTube, the glories of YouTube. I mean, mass incarceration, if we take that topic —
RT: Oh we haven’t even gotten to the Crime Bill!
MH: This is a guy who’s buying a bunch of measures including the 1995 Crime Bill, which Bill Clinton now says, yes, it did lead to mass incarceration. I signed something —
RT: When Bill Clinton gives a better apology apology and acknowledgement of error than you do —
MH: Whereas Joe Biden says no, it didn’t lead to mass incarceration.
JB: This idea that the Crime Bill generated mass incarceration — it did not generate mass incarceration.
MH: His senior adviser Symone Sanders, who’s a friend of mine, goes out on CNN on the weekend says it does not lead to mass incarceration, that’s weird. But what’s worse is, forget the numbers, go on YouTube. This is what I think is going to damage him over time. I don’t think he’s kind of runaway with this yet and we can come to that.
RT: I agree with you about that.
MH: When you watch some of the clips, it’s not just that he voted for this stuff or wrote the legislation. He’s laughing. He’s making jokes about the death penalty. He’s saying vicious things about the “super predators,” which did in Hillary Clinton.
RT: Because that worked for him, right? Again, he was the comforter. Now, I’m going to give you another example. And this is less about policy because yes, he’s the person who thought of and proudly took credit for the sentencing disparities between crack and powdered cocaine —
MH: He says the Republicans will not be able to go to the right of us on this. I dare them.
RT: Exactly and he doesn’t, he has bragged for years about being the architect of those sentencing disparities that caused, that created a problem of mass incarceration along racial lines, right? Here’s another example, and it’s not about policy. When he was in — he’s run for president twice before. One of the great ironies about Joe Biden being the great front-runner in 2020 is that the man has run —
MH: He’s a serial loser.
RT: He’s a serial loser.
MH: To quote the president of the United States: He’s a loser!
RT: The first time, he had to leave because of plagiarism. The second time he got .7 percent in Iowa.
MH: Came fifth, I think he did.
RT: Bill Richardson got more votes in the caucus in Iowa that he did.
MH: So how do you explain his reputation of white working-class vote whisperer?
RT: Okay, listen, first of all, a lot of his support right now is coming from black voters and it’s real and there have been a couple of articles about the devotion that many black voters, the base of the Democratic party, have to Joe Biden. But the irony is that that is, he’s getting that approval and he is being that comforting figure to part of the Democratic base because of his association with Barack Obama. And the irony of this I think speaks directly to the role of that guy in response to potentially disruptive changes in who has power in this country. So, in 2007, he’s running for the presidency against Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and Bill Richardson and he says in an interview early on —
MH: Oh, yes.
RT: — He’s a, in addition to everything else, he’s a gaffe machine. He’s always saying the wrong thing.
MH: Obama was, was it clean?
RT: Clean and articulate.
JB: You got the first sort of mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean, and a nice looking guy.
RT: He says this fundamentally racist thing about his then competitor in the primary, Barack Obama, and it is racist in that way that can be attributed to kind of a folksy racism. Your uncle racism, right?
MH: Yep, Thanksgiving table.
RT: Right, and so then, he loses horribly and after the first contest where he gets less than one percent, he’s out. There’s a long and protracted primary, Barack Obama comes out the winner. And then we have this position the first time in the United States, we have an African American man who is the Democratic nominee for the presidency and there is real fear surrounding that. We’ve never elected anybody who’s not a white man to the White House before. Well, who do you pick to comfort the folksy racists? You pick Uncle Joe who said the folksy racist thing about his competitor. So, the irony is he gets that job and this — I got more.
MH: Not in spite of, but because of.
RT: Because of the easy denigration of exactly, and that’s that role again. And it comforts white people. It comforts white voters.
MH: But I’m going to jump in here on Obama here because it’s an important point. We’ve had a lot of a lot of liberals, including yourself, I saw, you know, Jamelle Bouie, a bunch of people have written really interesting pieces about pushing back against the Biden phenomenon that we’re seeing right now because he is leading by a big way. He’s doing much better than a lot of people thought he’d do. What’s interesting is I don’t see a lot of criticism of Obama because if Biden is the front-runner today, that’s because of Barack Obama. If Biden was horrible on mass incarceration and abortion and busing, he was horrible when Barack Obama picked him in 2008.
RT: I think that’s fair.
MH: So, where is the criticism of Obama? It feels like Obama’s untouchable here and we can all pile onto Biden.
RT: Oh, I don’t think Obama is untouchable. I think that it is extremely fair to point out that he chose somebody as his running mate and his partner in the White House who had this record. But I also think that’s not done in a vacuum and this is neither a defense nor — Again, this is a country that is deeply uncomfortable around shifts in power and who holds power. The election of Barack Obama was — we look back at it and it’s so funny in retrospect and I think about this around the question of electability now and can we elect a woman, right? Well, historically, no. We can’t, right? Can we elect a black man up in 2008? No, like historically speaking, there’s no model for it. So, it’s unimaginable, right?
So, and this is not an excuse and I think that left criticism of Obama’s policy on a lot of this stuff is extremely valid, but I also think that in the moment of choosing as a running mate, you choose the person who is that guy who has been the comforter to the party that you are looking to lead and who has played the role of assuaging the discomfort and whatever it is, like white liberal guilt or whatever of a party that has remained stubbornly in the center and has not been aggressive on defending this stuff. I think that there is a strategic move in picking that guy to be your partner. And yes, it’s completely fair game to criticize. On the other hand, it is Joe Biden who’s running for president in 2020 which I think accounts for why —
MH: So let’s look at someone else to blame. The Democratic voters who are enthralled by Biden’s candidacy in some ways. If you look at the polling, some of it is to do with voters seem to want to be pundits. You talk to a lot of people, I meet so many people who say oh, yeah Joe Biden’s going to get it. Well, why? Because he’s going to get — it’s almost a circular argument —
RT: I’m writing about this right now.
MH: Good, I won’t preempt your piece, it’ll be excellent. But a specific point about the fact that he is winning and that he has this coalition of black voters from the base who like him. He’s got the highest approval ratings and he’s got this “white working-class,” Rust Belt, you know, the Trump people who are going to peel away to Biden, yeah, right. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing again and again and expecting different results. Is it unfair for me to say that Joe Biden is Hillary Clinton 2.0 with most of her flaws and very few of her pros?
RT: I think it’s fair. As somebody who felt more warmly about Hillary Clinton in 2016 than you did, I would say there is significant difference between them. I do think that everything that she got criticized truly, every valid criticism of Hillary Clinton applies to Joe Biden times 20 and one of the things that enraged me in the sort of post 2016 was his assertions that he made several times like I could have won. I could have beat Trump.
MH: Which is what’s led us to this moment now.
RT: Exactly, his conviction that he could have done it. And it’s like, as you said, and I’m not, by the way, I’m not in this to defend Hillary Clinton. So much of the criticism that she got from the left, I think was merited and fair. A, a lot of it is stuff she was married to. Now, some of it — her Iraq war vote, she was a Senator, right—
MH: No, no, I look at Hillary Clinton and I think you know, the whole super predators stuff. She said that as First Lady. Biden was writing the damn legislation.
RT: He wrote the legislation.
MH: She got knocked for giving speeches to Goldman Sachs. He’s a wholly-owned creature of the credit card industry.
RT: We haven’t talked about the credit card industry and the way that — His battling that has gone on for decades against Elizabeth Warren and then he —
MH: Yes! There’s literally a rival in the field who goes back decades fighting him about this.
RT: I also want to say this, which is an element and one of the things that has enraged me in 2020. You know, in 2016, when there was sort of some buzz, he clearly wanted to run. What was very clear is that Barack Obama did not want him to run. I mean, that’s from the outside, that seemed clear to me that he wanted to challenge Hillary in a primary. He did not. But one of the things that his camp did at the time was float this rumor that he was going to run with Warren as his running mate, and it pissed me off at the time because it was so clearly false. Elizabeth Warren has been bird-dogging Joe Biden for decades, right, on the bankruptcy stuff, on being in the pocket of the credit card companies. There was no way. What an unlikely match. Well, then we get to — He doesn’t run. It’s all —
MH: Lucky he didn’t do that again this time, Rebecca.
RT: He did it with Stacy Abrams and Kamala Harris. That’s now the new thing. He’s going to run with Kamala Harris.
MH: But did you hear Kamala Harris’ response?
KH: If people want to speculate about running mates, I encourage that because I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate. As vice president, he’s proven that he knows how to do the job.
RT: I mean, I think Stacey said something similar, which was, I mean, it’s not quite the same inversion, but like you don’t run for number two. But the way, this just speaks to his willingness to use other people to enhance his own power and standing within party.
MH: So for me, when I look at the Biden candidacy, I have many, many objections. And I sometimes ask myself what is the biggest problem I have? Is it his support for the Iraq war that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis? Is it his support for big finance which caused thousands of Americans to lose their homes, go broke? Mass incarceration, which we’ve touched on, it wrecked entire communities, especially black communities. But right now, in the current political moment, I can’t help but think that my biggest fundamental objection to him is that he doesn’t get what he’s up against and we’ve heard this recently with the whole talk of Trump is an aberration. The Republicans will have an epiphany once I’m elected. This sounds, feels like political malpractice. I just want to play a clip that really, really got to me over the weekend in Philadelphia.
JB [at rally]: I know some of the really smart folks say Democrats don’t want to hear about unity. They say Democrats are so angry that the angrier a candidate can be, the better chance he or she has to win the Democratic nomination. Well, I don’t believe it. I really don’t.
MH: What’s your response when you hear Joe Biden say that at his formal launch?
RT: I mean, my head is in my hands is my response. It makes me, like it sparks an aneurysm. Okay, so there are so many things about that that make me very angry. The first is his inability to recognize fury as valid, rational, and wholly appropriate to a moment that is beyond children dying in custody at the border, beyond women having their access to reproductive autonomy stripped — which is not just happening this week, but has been happening for years at the hands of a Republican party aided and abetted by moderate Democrats and anti-abortion Democrats who have permitted access to be denied. How can this man who gets so much of his electoral juice from his association with Barack Obama not be livid at a party that denied his president a Supreme Court seat that he was entitled to fill?
MH: Suggested his president wasn’t American for eight straight years.
RT: Yes, and then ran, lined up behind a candidate who said that his president wasn’t American. And that is, and so much, this precedes Trump. This is Mitch McConnell. This is the Republican party as it has been built over the course of the decades in which Joe Biden has been in power in the Senate and has been colleagues and buddies with these people.
MH: For me, that goes to the core of it. The fact that he’s not angry or that he doesn’t think anger is a righteous anger —
RT: And that he doesn’t see anger as a strategy. And who, look, Joe, look at last year, look at 2018 in the midterm results. Do you, first of all —
MH: That was women and people of color getting rightly angry.
RT: Women and people of color who were lividly angry. Their anger as happens, electorally and within political and social movements in terms of organizing, propels people off their couch from a point of complacency and some easy lie about unity. Putting even aside my antipathy for him, right? It is May of 2019.
MH: We’re a long way from Iowa.
RT: And I think that because this started so early and by the way, it started so early in part, because of the rage that Joe Biden doesn’t seem to feel is useful, right? It started so early because people are so desperate, not just to replace Donald Trump who is only very powerful and horrible but one symptom of what his party has been working toward for decades, right? You have an energy around not just Trump. You have energy around every, the Green New Deal. I mean, so, Medicare-for-all, free college becomes part of the conversation. The Green New Deal in a matter of months has become part of the conversation, right? We are changing what we can imagine and what we conceive of getting behind and even —
MH: I completely agree. It’s depressing to see the front-runner not on board with any of those things.
RT: It is depressing but I can’t permit and I’ve said this before, if I permitted myself to believe that this is what it was going to look like in six months, I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning because it is so depressing. I’m not saying that again, I’m not predicting that it won’t be but I cannot live my life right now —
MH: We’ve got time.
RT: We have so much time. We haven’t even seen them on stages talking. Most people have not seen —
MH: I think the debates are going to be fascinating especially if Elizabeth Warren is allowed to debate him. We don’t know what the layout is going to be because it’s two nights at NBC with 20 candidates, 10 a night. I do hope Elizabeth Warren is on the stage with Joe Biden.
RT: I am so desperate to see Elizabeth Warren debate Joe Biden.
MH: Let me ask you, last question, we’re out of time, if Joe Biden called you tonight and said, Rebecca, what am I not doing that I should be doing? What one piece of advice would you give him apart from saying drop out? You’re not allowed to say drop out. What would you say to him?
RT: This is a terrible question. One piece of advice?
MH: The first thing that comes into your head.
RT: I would say listen. I mean, that’s a dumb sort of like, you know, self-helpy kind of answer but this is a thing I don’t think he’s doing. And it’s sort of, the reason I use it as a stand in is because it goes in all these directions. Listen to the people who are challenging you. Listen to what they’re saying and take it seriously. Don’t just defend against it and, I mean, I’ve written that in my criticisms of him. He just presumes a kind of authority. It’s why he enters the race when there’s no discernible reason for him, right? Like, he presumes the kind of authority that is like, you know, criticisms fly off him like rubber bullets or whatever. And it’s like Joe, you know, you’ve been in this party for 50 years. You’ve been you know, a senator in this party for the better part of five decades, start listening. Maybe there are people who are now saying things that you need to be listening to if you think you’re the future of this party.
Now, I think it is patently absurd the notion that he thinks he’s the future of a party where in fact he’s been one of the backbones of it for the better part of five decades. But try listening to the people who have questions about that future and try taking them seriously and whether that means listening to Anita Hill, whether that means listening seriously to the people who are pushing him on revisiting and rethinking his attitudes about the Crime Bill and incarceration, whether that means seriously engaging questions of Hyde, for example, taking responsibility for it, acknowledging the things that he’s done in the past that lead people to be as angry as they are with him. As you said at the beginning of the show, an apology and some actual self-reckoning goes a long way with voters. If he actually sat down and had a conversation, what I’d say to him is like come have a conversation with me for three hours and let’s go through this piece by piece and talk about it.
MH: Joe Biden, the invitation is there from Rebecca Traister to come, have a three-hour conversation.
RT: It has to be three hours.
MH: I’m happy to host you both on this show. Rebecca, thank you so much for joining me on Deconstructed.
RT: Thank you for having me.
MH: That was Rebecca Traister, author, writer, columnist.
That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.
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