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August 23, 2008

Senator Biden, crime and punishment

Now that Barack Obama has finally made his VP choice official, I am starting to think about what this decision might mean for what a President Obama would do on the crime and punishment front.  Jeralyn at TalkLeft is all over this topic already with this post that is both sharp and discouraging:

Obama and Biden are going to run a tired, decades-old but tried and true "tough on crime" campaign. I expected it with Obama, as his views on crime were never particularly progressive, but now with Biden, it's enshrined in cement.

I understand and appreciate that not all voters -- and not even all readers of this site -- agree with me that America, Prison Nation, is one of the worst failures of our Government and our democracy. It's regressive and an embarrassment.

I found these comments from Jeralyn a bit jarring now because Jeralyn has not consistently criticized the Clintons on this front, and because Senator Biden strikes me as just playing the old Clintonian "let's not be accused of being soft" game in the arena of crime and punishment.  Still, I think Jeralyn is right to lament that the crime and punishment arena is just another in which Senator Biden does not represent a new kind of politics.

Still, as detailed in prior posts listed below, Senator Biden has been ahead of the curve a bit on some important sentencing discussions in recent times:

I am interested to hear from the informed and insightful readers of this blog what they think of the Biden pick.

UPDATE:  Scott has some important and effective insights over at Simple Justice in this post, titled "Will "Tough on Crime" Still be the Only Choice?"

August 23, 2008 at 10:44 AM | Permalink


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» Will "Tough on Crime" Still be the Only Choice? from Simple Justice
This is not intended as a partisan assessment, but rather one based on the hard reality that when it comes to criminal law issues, neither major party is willing to give up the appeal of being "tough on crime" to suck votes out of that vast group of "u... [Read More]

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TalkLeft used to be worth reading, but at some point Jeralyn became a hack. It didn’t really bother me that she decided to support Hillary, but she has tried to spin any story as something negative for Obama and positive for Hillary. She has never admitted the numerous potential negatives of picking Hillary, nor has she ever really lambasted Hillary (like she has others) for her awful crime positions. For example, she has barely mentioned Hillary’s horrible (and pandering) decision to oppose crack retroactivity.

As far as Biden, I think we all have to remember that the Vice President does not set policy and I can’t imagine Biden will have any role in dealing with crime legislation. And while Obama has not had the best record on crime-related issues (although it is much better than most), I suspect that as a black man and as a lawyer, he is particularly aware of the irrationality of the current state of the law.

Posted by: Not the same | Aug 23, 2008 10:55:55 AM

I just ask, what happens if obama looses?

Posted by: rawdawgbuffalo | Aug 23, 2008 11:01:55 AM

BIDEN’s Second Chance Act Passes Senate

The Second Chance Act has tremendous support from over 200 local and national organizations, including a wide cross-section of civil rights, justice, faith-based and community organizations. The American Bar Association, the Justice Fellowship, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights and the NAACP, among others, have been instrumental partners in ensuring that this legislation offers ex-offenders hope for the future.

Posted by: George | Aug 23, 2008 12:37:33 PM

I've always seen Biden as a fair-minded individual. The dem's have a sweet ticket now. Hillary was a disgrace with her lies after lies for women everywhere, though she may have made several cracks in the glass ceiling.

Posted by: | Aug 23, 2008 1:26:54 PM

Biden introduced a bill this year to equalize punishment for crack and powder, and held a hearing on the issue in late January 2008. He's also interested in drug courts, but doesn't yet seem to get that there should be federal drug courts, not just throw money at state drug courts.

Posted by: abe | Aug 23, 2008 7:56:42 PM

I agree with -not the same- that Biden's opinion in this area is unlikely to carry much weight. Let's not forget that much of domestic policy is set by Congress, not the president. The institutional nature of the position is that foreign relations is going to carry much more weight than domestic policy.

I disagree with -not the same- in his appeal to Obama's experience as a lawyer and a black man. One thing this campaign in general has convinced me, and this pick in particular illustrates, is Obama's fundamental conservative nature. He reminds me of Pelosi in that respect. There is a great deal of liberal talk and liberal base building. But Obama has no interest in the bold stroke, the defining moment, the attention grabbing *action*. The whole attitude of the Democratic leadership at this time is, "don't drop the soap." I remain pessimistic that this incrementalist attitude will someone how change after the election. I think those who are interested in sentencing reform should pay more attention to the make up of the House and Senate and build connection there.

Posted by: Daniel | Aug 24, 2008 12:12:58 AM

Before real change can happen Democrats have to penetrate The Wrecking Crew fortress and counter the The Shock Doctrine implementation. The same is true for domestic or foreign policy. Neocons really only have a simple one-two punch: have the wrecking crew ready to move in at any crisis opportunity. It will take a generation to undo that damage they've done.

Posted by: George | Aug 24, 2008 1:26:28 AM

Along with Tom Harkin and John Kerry, Biden has been one of the most ardent drug warriors in the Senate promoting federal pork for low-level enforcement - e.g. by championing the failed local drug task force system funded by the Byrne grant program. The Bushies, Heritage Foundation, National Taxpayers Union and other conservatives have repeatedly proposed Byrne grants for the chopping block, joined by liberal groups like the ACLU and others concerned with drug war overkill. It's Dems like Biden who're fearful of being labeled "soft on crime" who kept the pork flowing.

That said, Biden is there for his foreign policy credentials, not his criminal justice policies. I think Jeralyn overreaches to assume Biden's selection says anything at all about Obama's likely stances on crime. (And as an aside, we know Hillary would have done nothing but make things worse, to judge by her husband's record on crime policy.)

My own view is that it doesn't matter what are the candidates stances because for neither of them will the issue be a priority. So there will be little political capital behind whatever is proposed, good or bad. This election and the next presidential term simply are likely to be primarily about other topics. Anything positive or negative that happens on criminal justice will likely occur only at the margins or in reaction to the courts.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Aug 24, 2008 11:17:26 AM

Those interested in juvenile justice may want to check out an article written by Senator Biden in a Symposium entitled Children, Crime, and Consequences: Juvenile Justice in America. It is very supportive of a gender responsive approach to girls in the juvenile justice system and talks about how the federal government can be proactive in treating problems of girls who often wind up on the street due to physical and sexual abuse at home. See Joseph R. Biden, Jr., What About The Girls? The Role Of The Federal Government In Addressing The Rise In Female Juvenile Offenders, 14 Stan. L. & Pol'y Rev. 29 (2003). Professor Myrna Raeder

Posted by: Myrna Raeder | Aug 24, 2008 9:11:28 PM

The choice of Biden suggests that Obama takes very seriously the importance of being able to implement his agenda in the U.S. Senate and recognizes that getting bills passed has not been his strong point during his tenure.

Biden is an old hand at making things happen in the Senate and I expect that he will be Obama's man there, serving as more of a liason with the Senate than any other VP in recent memory, should the ticket prevail in November.

Biden, like Obama, is in the middle of the Congressional delegation of Democrats politically. Neither is a blue dog, neither is a progressive caucus member. They are plain vanilla moderate liberals - Biden is best known for his activism in the areas of foreign affairs and financial matters (like the bankruptcy bill).

Obama is to the left of Hillary Clinton (and, of course, McCain) on criminal justice issues, but has not made that stance a particular focus of his campaign. I would expect some modest steps to the left legislatively on criminal justice issues during an Obama administration as a result, but the real place chance is more likely is in enforcement priorities once an attorney general is nominated. And, likely attorney general nominations are likely to be as hard to predict as Obama's VP nomination was.

I would also expect Biden to play a tiny role in U.S. Supreme Court nominations given that Obama, as a law professor, probably has strong views on the subject.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Aug 25, 2008 5:54:10 PM

I am writing as a recently politically conscious (I'm sure this is a work in progress) 60-year-old, white, middle-class woman. White, middle-class, working American - the voter both sides are supposedly intent on "winning."

I am ashamed to say that I never really cared much about our criminal justice system, because until a few years ago it hadn't touched me personally. Then a dear friend of mine was involved in a white-collar crime, an aberration in an otherwise exemplary life. Once I started reading about our criminal justice (in many cases injustice) system, I have become increasingly appalled. This is NOT the American I THOUGHT I lived in.

I was disappointed in Obama's choice of Biden. His choice pretty much shoots down Obama's promises of change in Washington. Biden is a career politician, and he plays by the old rules. I believe Biden's ties to credit card company MBNA affected his role in and support of the draconian new Bankruptcy Law that went into effect in 2005 - a law that Bill Clinton twice vetoed while in office. Biden supports the War on Drugs, a monumentally expensive and unsuccessful war. He's an old-school Democrat who wants to appear "tough on crime."

Although not thrilled with Obama, I had decided definitely not to vote for McCain because of his position on the Iraq War, his waffling on and changing of his positions on virtually every issue, and his close alignment with Bush. I hope the majority of Democratic woman who had supported Hillary and who subsequently intended to vote for McCain because they didn't like Obama for beating Clinton (among other things), will be as insulted as I am at McCain's choice of Palin as a candidate - what crass political pandering - thinking women will vote for him because Palin is a woman and pandering to the evangelical far right who hold beliefs that McCain does not. McCain is 72 and has some MAJOR health problems, of which one is cancer that is CURRENTLY in remission. I think McCain has lost the Independent vote - I hope so.

Frankly, I think the only way we're going to get away from More of the Same in Washington is to vote for someone like Ron Paul. The more I read about him, the more I like what he stands for (not all of his positions but most of them).

Posted by: Antonia Myss | Sep 1, 2008 10:45:43 AM

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