Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Another Democratic Turd Drug Warrior In Need Of a Repeated Flushing: Joe Biden


Counterpunch |  I will never forget an encounter I had back in the ‘90s with then-Senator Joe Biden from Delaware. I was working as the house photographer for Widener University, which is just south of the Philly airport and just north of the Delaware line. Biden was then working hard in the Senate to fund more cops and prisons. He came to Widener to speak on the topic, and I was assigned to photograph him. After taking a few shots, I decided to stay to listen to the man and his pitch for the Drug War, something that personally interested me, beyond my job as a flak photographer.

I forget exactly what the beloved working-class senator from the corporate state of Delaware said. But it didn’t sit right with me. I had been spending my vacation time as a photographer in places like El Salvador and Nicaragua, in the middle of the Reagan Wars. I’d also been photographing addicts on the street through a needle exchange program in inner city Philadelphia and had been reading on Harm Reduction research. Later, I become aware, from a book by Ted Gest called Crime & Politics: Big Government’s Erratic Campaign for Law and Order, that when Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, Democrats were freaked out: they feared they were finished politically. 

According to Gest, it was Joe Biden who saved the day by saying, “‘Give me the crime issue and you’ll never have trouble with it in an election.’” Crime bills were the way for Democrats to stay in the political game.

“How did so much crime legislation pass during the partisan 1980s?” Gest asks. “A key element was important personal relationships in the Capital, especially between Biden and the new Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.” This is the famous racist Dixiecrat who, following the Nixon Strategy, had changed his party affiliation to Republican, keeping his Senate seniority. It was the beginning of a fruitful political friendship — “fruitful” that is, if you were a politician willing to pander and fuel the Drug War fears of the time. The result was money for more cops and more prisons. It was part and parcel with what Michelle Alexander has dubbed “the new Jim Crow,” where the stigma of being a felon replaced the old stigma of being a nigger. Bill Clinton went on to pursue a similar strategy to stay in the political game.

It was thus that I encountered Senator Biden in a Widener University auditorium shilling for the Drug War. I was in the second row and raised my hand. Biden called on me, stepping toward me as I stood up. We were maybe ten feet apart. My question focused on why he seemed to dismiss addressing the demand problem in the United Stares. I mentioned Harm Reduction. The important word I used was decriminalization. My point was why couldn’t we try something other than using the military and police and prisons to address our very real drug problem?

I might as well have said something about his children. He knew I was there as some kind of working PR person, and he lit into me with vicious glee. He turned to address the audience, avoiding both me and my question.

“This fellow thinks he’s smart. He cleverly uses the term ‘decriminalization’ — when he really means legalization. He wants to make drugs legal, folks.” He went on some more. All the time I wanted to  say: “Listen — SIR! — would you answer my question.”

It was personal. But it made the man’s huge investment in the Drug War very clear. He knew very well that decriminalization and all the very reasonable Harm Reduction research was the Achilles heel of the Drug War. If the well-respected Ted Gest is correct, the Drug War virtually made Joe Biden’s political career; working with Strom Thurmond to put away black people made him who he is today. Is this unfair to Joe Biden? No doubt, his bi-partisan cooperation with Thurmond to some degree mitigated the South Carolina senator’s Old South racism. It did nothing, however, to ease up the trend that led to the mass incarceration of African Americans; and some would add it did nothing to mitigate the current dysfunctional national bruise caused by the ideological struggle between the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements.

We all know Joe Biden’s well-nourished public persona as the working man’s politician, the guy all of us want to sit down and have a beer with. The fact is, I would have loved to sit down and have a beer with Joe. I’d ask him to answer the question he parried away in that auditorium. What do we have to do now to undo what you and your bi-partisan allies created back in the ’80s? We all may have the opportunity to ask him these questions, since it feels like he’s running for 2020. But let’s hope the Democrats get their act together and do better than running good ol’ Joe.