Ah! well a-day! what evil looksThere is no room for Joe Biden.
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.
-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
We already have Bernie Sanders, who the mainstream press continues to treat as a quirky phenomenon, ignoring the issues that he is so powerfully raising -- particularly the issue that undergirds all the others -- economic inequality. Bernie is drawing huge, raucous crowds and displaying remarkably successful fundraising prowess, all due, of course, to the resonance of these very issues. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton, being the brilliant politician she is, understands the zeitgeist (and the power of Bernie), and has moved left, taking thoughtful, progressive stances on issues from gun control to criminal justice reform to immigration to even Wall Street reform.
Which brings us to Joe Biden. Will he or won't he? Polls are taken that include him even though he is not running. Breathless columns are written about promises he made to his dying son. His friends and allies whisper to the press that he is leaning one way or maybe the other. And now there are reports that he is definitely running and will be announcing his decision any day.
Biden needs to quell the rumors and walk away. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are two formidable candidates. If Biden chooses to run he will play neatly into two media themes that are damaging to the ultimate Democratic candidate. First, is the notion fueled by the right and perpetuated by much of the media that Hillary is irreparably flawed, proven untrustworthy and unelectable by Email-ghazi-gate. This relates to the second theme -- that even if Hillary's candidacy is doomed (which it isn't) that we need a more establishment Democrat like Biden to jump in because Bernie Sanders is not to be taken seriously.
As Obama once said about Hillary, Biden is "likeable enough." But it isn't as if he doesn't have plenty of baggage. He bowed out of the 1988 race because of accusations that he misrepresented his academic record and plagiarized speeches. There are the gaffes, some of which display jarring racial insensitivity. And then there are some of his so-called hallmark achievements as a United States Senator. Like his role in passing a crime bill in 1994, often referred to as the Biden Crime Bill, a "tough on crime" law largely responsible for mass incarceration in the U.S. He also was hugely influential in the passage of landmark bankruptcy legislation in 2005, backed by credit card companies and railed against by unions, consumer advocates and, in particular, Elizabeth Warren, who roundly criticized Biden for his role.
And then, for me, is the albatross that will always be around Biden's neck: Justice Clarence Thomas.
Biden was the chair of the Senate's Judiciary Committee during Thomas' confirmation hearings in 1991. And his performance was unforgivable. He failed to take Anita Hill's testimony about being sexually harassed by Thomas seriously, and lost control to far more aggressive and more overtly sexist Republicans. In his efforts to be unstintingly fair to Thomas, he repeatedly assured him that "you have the benefit of the doubt," despite the lack of any legal justification for such an assurance. He refused to permit expert testimony on sexual harassment. And, worst of all, he reached a private compromise with Republican senators not to call witnesses who would have corroborated Hill, most importantly, Angela Wright, another former employee of Thomas' at the EEOC who also claimed to have been sexually harassed by him. Thomas was confirmed by a slim margin, 52–48, with the help of 11 Democrats. Although Biden voted against Thomas, his shameful performance as Judiciary Chair is directly responsible for one of the most reactionary Supreme Court justices in U.S. history.
Joe Biden might come across as more authentic than Hillary and more reasonable than Bernie. He deservedly garners an enormous amount of sympathy and respect for the dignity with which he has faced unspeakable family tragedies. But he is far from a savior for the Democratic Party. The problem for Biden is the Party doesn't need saving.