By Yvonne Sam
As former Vice-president, Joe Biden, utilizes President Obama’s esteemed status among Democratic voters, as the means of protecting himself from the plethora of candidates jockeying to be the next White House occupant, could he be proclaiming his elegy?
In the past few weeks as the presidential race and pace quickened, the Democratic frontrunner has had that legacy used against him, with his competitors highlighting the failings of the last Democratic administration, as evidence that Biden lacks the spice, and is certainly not up to the task of leading the next one.
While evidence abounds that President Obama, personally, was popular with the Democratic voters, at the same time, there is an increasing awareness that income and wealth inequality, climate crisis, and deportations etcetera, increased during his eight-year term in office.
Within Democratic circles, the notion that the Obama legacy would be anything other than a huge positive for Biden, as he navigates the 2020 Democratic Party, has been treated as irrefutable.
For a while, many of Biden’s fellow Democrats vying for the White House, appeared satisfied to simply avoid challenging the former Vice-president as he, again and again, referenced his time in the Obama administration when publicizing his work on health care and beating back attacks over his record on race relations.
However, in recent weeks, that reluctance has diminished. On issues emanating from immigration to health care and foreign policy, the 2020 presidential candidates have been progressively critical in their public appraisals of the Obama administration. Additionally, they have also used opportunities — from the debate stage to candidate forums — to try and swing Biden’s ties to the former president from an astounding asset, to something more complex.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) challenged Vice-president Biden over the Obama administration deportation policies. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) campaign has used Obama’s own words to challenge Biden’s belief that Obamacare simply needs to be built upon. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.) withdrew support for the Obama administration’s 2015 Iran nuclear deal as originally written. And Governor Jay Inslee (D-WA) has fired upon Biden for a gullibility about dealing with Republicans — in what has been interpreted as an unspoken rebuke of Obama’s own failure to fully grasp GOP defiance and audacity.
The inconspicuous targeting of Biden has occurred as Democratic activists and progressives continue to wrestle with the Obama legacy as well. Expressly, the Trump’s administration family separation policy and heartless conditions in detention facilities have triggered a broader conversation among Democratic voters, about whether the Obama administration’s own deportation policies laid the groundwork for the current controversies.
In the last month, at least on two occasions, protesters have faced down Biden to demand an apology for the three million deportations that occurred during the Obama administration.
Activists with Movimiento Cosecha, a non-violent organization fighting for permanent protection, dignity and respect for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US, held a protest at Biden’s Philadelphia campaign headquarters and, at a later date, accosted him at a New Hampshire campaign stop.
Viatheir Dignity 2020 called on Biden and his other presidential aspirants to pledge to halt detention and deportation, forthwith; legalize the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States; and reunite families, separated during the current and past administration.
According to Carlos Rojas, an organizer with the group, “We wanted the general public to understand that just beating Trump in 2020 is only part of the solution. And there’s a lot of people that think that if Trump was no longer in the White House that the immigration crisis would go away, and that’s just not true.”
Another member of the group, who is now a citizen but lived undocumented for 10 years, said they’re closely tracking how other candidates have been responding to questions about Obama’s immigration record, and are tentatively planning to have a presence in Detroit, leading up to the next Democratic presidential debate.
Already, they have seen some candidates take a harder look at the Obama legacy. Even Julian Castro, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Obama, said that he believed the administration had been too harsh when it came to immigration.
The critique has protracted beyond the issue of immigration. During the first debate Senator Cory Booker said that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, a landmark foreign policy achievement in Obama’s second term, could have been better.
Many, including Biden, have also introduced sweeping climate change plans with hallmarks of the Green New Deal and taken a No Fossil Fuel Money pledge, which activists have seen as a necessary corrective to the Obama administration’s lack of action on the drastic threat of climate change.
A former senior adviser to President Obama, Dan Pfeiffer, has said that while it may be essential for all Democratic candidates to offer an agenda that builds on what the Obama administration accomplished, and there is room for good faith criticism of what was not done or could have been done better, a strategy to beat Biden by going after the Obama legacy seems unlikely to succeed.
Conclusively, if the Democrats do not change their strategy they may unconsciously be giving Trump the victory. The former vice-president should take some advice and stop invoking the legacy, as it is inflammatory as all can see.
Vice President Biden needs to get this straight — what is needed in 2020 is results, not change as was needed in 2008. Going with the legacy may be tantamount to an elegy.