We dont have to choose Bidens way, which would give Trump a perfect foil
Democrats are trying to choose a candidate to beat Donald Trump, the most corrupt president in history. Some think nominating Joe Biden, a moderate white man who calls himself Middle Class Joe, makes sense.
But Biden has a big corruption problem and it makes him a weak candidate. I know it seems crazy, but a lot of the voters we need independents and people who might stay home will look at Biden and Trump and say: Theyre all dirty.
It looks like Middle Class Joe has perfected the art of taking big contributions, then representing his corporate donors at the cost of middle- and working-class Americans. Converting campaign contributions into legislative favors and policy positions isnt being moderate. It is the kind of transactional politics Americans have come to loathe.
There are three clear examples.
First, Bidens support for finance over working-class Americans. His career was bankrolled by the credit card industry. He delivered for it by spearheading a bankruptcy bill that made it harder for Americans to reduce their debts and helped cause the financial crisis. He not only authored and voted for that bill, he split with Barack Obama and led the battle to vote down Democratic amendments.
His explanations for carrying water for the credit card industry have changed over time. They have never rung true.
The simplest explanation is the most likely: he did it for his donors. At a fundraiser last year, Biden promised his Wall Street donors that nothing would fundamentally change for them if he became president. Now the financial world is raising huge money for his campaign. It clearly thinks hes going to be its friend if elected. Most Americans, who get ripped off by the financial sector on a daily basis, arent looking for a candidate who has made their life harder.
Second, healthcare. On 25 April, the day he announced his campaign, Biden went straight to a fundraiser co-hosted by the chief executive of a major health insurance corporation. He refuses to sign a pledge to reject money from insurance and pharma execs and continues to raise money from healthcare industry donors. His campaign is being bankrolled by a super Pac run by healthcare lobbyists.
What did all these donors get? A healthcare proposal that preserves the power of the insurance industry and leaves 10 million Americans uninsured.
Third, climate change. Biden signed a pledge not to take money from the fossil fuel industry, then broke his promise. Right after a CNN town hall on climate change, he held a fundraiser hosted by the founder of a fossil fuel conglomerate. He is pushing climate policy that has gotten dismal reviews from several leading environmental groups.
There are plenty of other examples that raise questions, like housing and social security. Big real estate moguls are playing a major role in Bidens campaign. Unlike his rivals, he has no comprehensive housing plan. When he pushed for cuts to Social Security, was he serving donors or his constituents?
I can already hear the howls: But look at Trump! Trump is 1,000 times worse!
You dont need to convince me. I have spent my life writing about and fighting against corruption, and in America I have never seen anything like the current administration. In the last three years, I have made combatting Trumps corruption the heart of my work.
I was on the first lawsuit against him for corrupt constitutional violations and I ran for attorney general in New York on a platform of pointing out just how dangerous he is, and how important unused state laws are to stopping him. My work on corruption was cited in the House judiciary committees report on impeachment.
But heres the thing: nominating a candidate like Biden will make it far more difficult to defeat Trump. It will allow Trump to muddy the water, to once again pretend he is the one draining the swamp, running against Washington culture. Trump and the Cambridge Analytica of 2020 will campaign, as they did in 2016, on a message of radical nihilism: everybody lies, everybody is corrupt, nothing matters, there is no truth.
Corrupt politicians always use whataboutism. With Biden, we are basically handing Trump a whataboutism playbook. The comparison wont be fair, but if you think he wont use Bidens closeness to donors as a cudgel to try to keep people home, you havent been paying attention. Unlike Democrats, who must give voters a reason to come out, Trump doesnt need voters to love him. He just needs to convince people the whole game is ugly.
Whether or not Biden is making choices to please donors, there is no doubt his record represents the transactional, grossly corrupt culture in Washington that long precedes Trump. We cannot allow Trump to so lower our standards that we arent even allowed to call out that culture, which has not only stymied progress but also harmed the Democratic party.
The good news is that we still have time to break with this culture of corruption. We dont have to choose Bidens way, which would give Trump a perfect foil. The 2020 election should be about a crystal clear contrast between truth and lies, corruption and integrity, compassion and cruelty.
We have a rare opportunity to end a larger culture of corruption and we should take it we will regret it if we dont.
Zephyr Teachout, an associate professor at Fordham Law School, is the author of Corruption in America: From Ben Franklins Snuff Box to Citizens United. Her next book is Break Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money. She has endorsed Bernie Sanders for president.