The Biden Contradiction

He’s running on Covid and character, but his policies are the most left-wing in decades.

The Editorial Board   October 30, 2020

The Wall Street Journal hasn’t endorsed a presidential candidate since 1928—Hoover—and we aren’t about to change this year. But we do try to sum up the risks and promise of the candidates every four years, and we’ll start today with the contradictory candidacy of Joe Biden.

The former Vice President is running as a reassuring moderate, a man of good character who can reunite the country and crush Covid-19 after the disruptive Trump Presidency. Yet he also is running on the most left-wing policy program in decades.

Voters have little idea about these policies because Mr. Biden mentions them only in the most vague, general terms. The press barely reports them. Americans may think they’re voting for Joe’s persona, but they will get the platform of Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

In Mr. Biden’s sunny telling, he will be the anti-Donald Trump. He won’t kick down, won’t trash norms and won’t alienate allies. He’ll work with Republicans to forge bipartisan policies, restraining the passions of his party’s left. In that sense he has been the perfect Democratic nominee to appeal to women and suburban Republicans tired of polarized politics. He has run a disciplined campaign on character and Covid that has made the election a referendum on Mr. Trump.

We too would like to believe Mr. Biden could govern in a less divisive way because it would be better for the country. Left to his own instincts, and if he were a decade younger, he might pull it off. Every Republican who negotiated with the White House over a budget compromise in 2011 told us they made progress when Mr. Biden was in the room, only to have Barack Obama take it all back when he joined the talks.

But what evidence is there today that Mr. Biden will restrain his increasingly radical party? Across his long career he has been the consummate party man, floating right or left with the political tides. As a presidential candidate this year he has put no particular policy imprint on the Democratic Party—not one. The party has put its stamp on him.

This is extraordinary in modern political history. Bill Clinton ran as a centrist New Democrat for welfare reform, George W. Bush pushed compassionate conservatism, Barack Obama ran as a racial pioneer and political conciliator, and Donald Trump broke from GOP orthodoxy on trade and immigration.

Mr. Biden has instead conformed himself and his agenda to the priorities of the regnant left. He has ditched his long opposition to taxpayer funding of abortion. He supports tax rates on income and capital higher than any since the 1970s. His pro-union agenda harks back to the 1930s’ Wagner Act. His version of the Green New Deal would spend $2 trillion in four years and aims to eliminate fossil fuels with mandates and regulation.

These are not exaggerations. The details are on his web site and in the Biden-Sanders unity agenda Mr. Biden endorsed after he won the nomination. Primary winners usually move to the center. Mr. Biden moved left to keep the Bernie brigades mobilized. Anyone who thinks Mr. Biden will be able to forget all this if elected doesn’t understand the fund-raising and media power of the Democratic left.

The best chance for Mr. Biden to govern from the center would be if Republicans hold the Senate. Then he would have some leverage over Mrs. Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, who fears a primary challenge in 2022 from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Otherwise how would Mr. Biden stand up to them next year if he won’t even clearly criticize court-packing now?

On foreign policy, Mr. Biden sounds at his best like a typical liberal internationalist. He would restore good relations with allies like Germany, and he’d stop using tariffs as a weapon against friends like Canada and Mexico. But he’d also run head long back into the flawed Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate accord that restrains the U.S. but not China.

Mr. Biden has tried to outdo Mr. Trump as a China hawk, though no one really believes it. Our worry is that he’d downplay Beijing’s security offenses in favor of papier-mâché promises on climate, as Mr. Obama did. The news in recent days of his family’s attempts to do business with sketchy Chinese figures close to the government raises real questions of how he’d deal with Chairman Xi Jinping.

As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates famously put it, Mr. Biden has been wrong about every major foreign policy issue in his career. During the Cold War he opposed Reagan’s arms buildup and missile defenses, and he voted against the first Gulf War.

He supported the Iraq war when it was popular only to turn against it when his party did, and then he opposed the 2007 surge that saved the day. He also opposed the raid on Osama bin Laden. It’s impossible to believe Mr. Biden would have acted to kill Iranian terror chief Qasem Soleimani, as Mr. Trump did.

The biggest risk with Mr. Biden is his physical and mental condition. He looks increasingly like an old 77. His campaign’s strategy of letting him out only once or twice a day, and his refusal to take nearly all media questions, isn’t reassuring. The truth is that Americans don’t know if Mr. Biden’s clear deterioration from even four years ago is routine aging or something more serious.

A fair consideration for voters is how long Mr. Biden will be able to handle the burdens of the Presidency. A capable staff and a forgiving press corps will cover for him as long as they can. But he surely won’t run for re-election, if he makes it four years. Americans who vote for Mr. Biden may be voting for Ms. Harris as his successor sooner than they imagine.

Mr. Biden has led in the polls for months, and tens of millions of voters clearly have Trump fatigue and dislike the President’s handling of Covid. They may elect the man they think is Mr. Trump’s opposite in the hope of restoring more decorum and calm to American politics. They should know they may be voting for disruption of a different kind from the political left.



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