Joe Biden: A Standard Bearer For America’s Two-Tiered Justice System

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Joe Biden at a 2020 campaign rally in Pittsburgh. (Photo: Paris Malone)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is the standard bearer for the two-tiered justice system in the United States.

In his career, Biden celebrated Vice President Dick Cheney in spite of Cheney’s contempt for the rule of law while standing by his role in expanding the criminal punishment system for low-income citizens, particularly black people grappling with neglect and disinvestment.

A video clip from October 2015 went viral on May 2. It was of Biden’s appearance on a panel with another former vice president, Walter Mondale, to pay tribute to Mondale’s legacy. Biden said, “I actually like Dick Cheney,” and added, “I get on with him. I think he’s a decent man.”

Biden also suggested Cheney’s advice on the “legal parameters” of the vice president’s office was “extremely helpful.”

Yet, what went viral was not nearly as contemptible as the words Biden uttered months later at a ceremony in December, when a marble bust of Cheney was unveiled in the United States Capitol.

Biden went beyond the perfunctory ritual that may have been required of a sitting vice president. His over-the-top flattery of Cheney helped whitewash his role in launching a war in Iraq that was based on lies, as well as how he backed torture, indefinite detention, and warrantless wiretapping following the September 11th attacks.

He showed how elites prioritize “civility” and polite gestures over accountability for powerful people to make it easier for officials to work together in Washington, D.C.

“I actually like Dick Cheney,” Biden reiterated. Then, he said, “I have nothing but inordinate respect for you, and I mean that sincerely.”

“When Gerald Ford took on that awesome responsibility in a difficult time, he turned to somebody to be a strong guiding hand. And he picked the right guy.” (Cheney was assistant to the president and the White House deputy chief of staff during the Ford administration.)

“Anybody who’s thinking about challenging Dick Cheney should think twice before they’re thinking about doing it,” Biden declared.

“There’s never one single time been a harsh word, not one single time in our entire relationship. Not only to one another but about one another. That’s what I think is most desperately missing today in Washington, D.C.”

Biden boasted that he had never questioned Cheney’s motives.

“When you question motive, it’s virtually impossible to reach consensus. Dick and I could argue like hell about everything from foreign policy to domestic policy. But if we went at each other in personal ways, questioning motive, there’d be no possibility to reach a resolution.”

“I don’t think there are many vice presidents, or for that matter, presidents, who have been in the eye of the storm on so many critical events in American history,” Biden stated, as he returned to praising Cheney. “From the transition of a presidency in the wake of an impeachment that didn’t occur to several wars to the genesis of stateless actors that continue to threaten the social fabric of not only America but the world.”

Biden concluded, “You have been a great asset to this country, and the way you have personally conducted yourself is a model for anyone in high public office in this country.”

“A Model For Anyone In Public Office”

Cheney deceived U.S. citizens into believing Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. He pressured intelligence officials to alter findings in order to help the Bush administration make the case for war in Iraq. He deliberately misled Americans into believing Iraq President Saddam Hussein was linked to al Qaida.

War in Iraq resulted in the death of over a million Iraqis. More than 1.5 million Iraqis were forced to flee to neighboring countries. Over 4,000 U.S. troops were killed.

During his tenure as vice president, Cheney additionally threatened Iran with military aggression and supported the development of torture techniques employed against detainees. He infamously said the government may need to go to “the dark side,” and, “It’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal.”

Senator John McCain introduced a bill that was supposed to prohibit torture. In 2005, Cheney pressured senators to add an exemption for the CIA. The Washington Post editorial board dubbed him the “Vice-President for Torture.”

Cheney also championed warrantless wiretapping by the NSA and hailed the Bush administration’s massive expansion and abuse of executive power.

“At the end of the Nixon administration, you had the nadir of the modern presidency in terms of authority and legitimacy. There were a number of limitations that [were] imposed in the aftermath of Vietnam and Watergate,” Cheney recalled, adding the Bush administration reversed that trend and restored the “legitimate authority of the presidency.”

Cheney was particularly sensitive to criticism that compared President George W. Bush’s administration to President Richard Nixon’s administration. But Biden’s tribute effectively showed the Democratic Party establishment would not let any of his involvement in criminal conduct get in the way of pomp and circumstance.

Remarkably, Cheney co-authored a book with his daughter that was released a few months before the ceremony. Cheney defended invading Iraq, despite all the carnage and destruction, including the rise of the Islamic State.

“After 9/11,” Cheney wrote, “we had an obligation to do anything possible to prevent terrorists from gaining access to much worse weapons. Saddam’s Iraq was the most likely place for terrorists to gain access to and knowledge of such weapons.”

Iraq was not such a place before the U.S. invasion. It became that place for militant groups because Cheney and various neoconservatives pushed for war.

As highlighted by Max Blumenthal in his book, “The Management of Savagery,” Hussein warned after his capture, “Wahhabism is going to spread in the Arab nation and probably faster than anyone expects. And the reason why is people view Wahhabism as an idea and a struggle,” and, “Iraq will be a battlefield for anyone who wants to carry arms against America.”

Biden referred to these “stateless actors” in his tribute to the “strong guiding hand” of Cheney without recognizing his significant role in fueling the rise of militant groups. The policies he pushed helped groups metastasize and set up new bases of operation in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

For someone who has moralized so often about law and order in the U.S., it is incredible Biden overlooked Cheney’s role as a “great asset” to al Qaida and its affiliates, as well as ISIS and its various formations. These groups have totally demolished the ability of several countries to govern huge swaths of their territory.

“Most Dangerous Vice President We’ve Probably Had”

Biden understood when he made his remarks that Cheney was one of the “most dangerous vice presidents we’ve had probably in American history.” That is what he said at a vice presidential debate on October 2, 2008, before Obama was elected.

“He doesn’t realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that’s the executive. He works in the executive branch,” Biden contended. “The idea he’s part of the legislative branch is a bizarre notion invented by Cheney to aggrandize the power of the unitary executive and look where it’s gotten us. It has been very dangerous.”

Yet, somehow, seven years later, Biden lauded Cheney’s advice on the “legal parameters” of the office of the vice president.

A hallmark of the Obama administration was moving forward instead of looking backward. Officials like Biden had no appetite for accountability for torture, war crimes, warrantless wiretapping, or any other impeachable offenses. They would not even prosecute executives on Wall Street, who were responsible for the financial collapse in 2008. They did not want to create friction among elites who were depended upon to maintain business as usual.

“We Have An Obligation To Cordon Them Off”

No such compassion was shown toward black Americans dealing with poverty, hunger, lack of education, and unemployment. They received no bailout. In 1996, Biden supported “welfare reform,” which curtailed some safety net programs that were available. Nor were they given the benefit of a policy of looking forward so the root causes of crime could be addressed.

Biden looked backward to a degree that added to oppression. He engaged in dog-whistling, exaggerated the problem, and prescribed mass incarceration for “predators on our streets.”

“I don’t care why someone is a malefactor in society. I don’t care why someone is antisocial. I don’t care why they’ve become a sociopath. We have an obligation to cordon them off from the rest of society,” Biden declared in 1993.

Biden stood by his work developing the 1994 “crime bill” until January 2019, when he had to distance himself from his record before his presidential campaign.

The same unforgiving approach was pursued against drug users. Biden came up with the idea of having a drug czar in President Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet. He cosponsored legislation in the 1980s that empowered law enforcement to engage in civil asset forfeiture and confiscate property without a warrant on mere suspicions of potential involvement in drug trafficking. It led to a practice that police departments have used to enrich themselves for decades.

As the Foundation for Economic Education pointed out, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act in 1986 was partially written by Biden. It changed the law so “those caught with a mere five grams of crack cocaine were subject to the same mandatory minimum as those caught with 500 grams of powdered cocaine. The application of this law disproportionately harmed African-American communities and contributed to mass incarceration.”

Biden fervently believed the justice system should be brought to bear on poor black communities. But his approach to lawless elites in Washington was notably different. There was no reason to cordon them off from society, and they will not necessarily be cordoned from working with a Biden administration.

The former vice president celebrated Cheney so openly because Cheney has a reputation as an official who abused power and committed crimes. He prides himself on reaching across the aisle and befriending Republicans and believed praising someone seen as a boogeyman to his base of supporters would endear him to Republicans

These are the very same people with whom he collaborated in the 1980s and 1990s to expand unjust policies of incarceration. Biden will proudly collaborate with them again and enable Republicans who empowered President Donald Trump’s worst policies if he is elected president.

Journalist. Writes about politics. Managing editor of Twitter: @kgosztola

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