“Better in the Original German”–Joe Biden Endorses Mass Incarceration

The clip above makes apparent the continuing relevance of the late Molly Ivins’  line cited in the title. It is, however, not as amusing as it was when it was directed at far right icon Pat Buchanan. Now, any guffaws it elicits should be followed by the recognition that what accurately described a reactionary Republican can readily be applied to the Democratic front runner.

This is depressing, yet another indication of our continuing descent into something resembling fascism.  But it’s also good news of a sort that we’re finally waking up to the reality of the “tough on crime” rhetoric of 90s.  That it was more than a little reminiscent of the Waffen SS is now pretty obvious.  And it’s also useful to be reminded that the mass incarceration mania was a bipartisan affair. The Democrats obscured their role in consigning countless low level drug offenders to our system of gulags  through Clinton initiating a “national conversation on race” conducted under layers of “I feel your pain” therapy-speak combined with “tough love” respectability politics.

Biden’s role in the creating mass incarceration epidemic has meant that one of the signature achievements of the neoliberal era, the 1993 Crime Bill, has become a campaign issue. His opponents are predictably and entirely appropriately making Biden’s position known.  Not surprisingly, the Biden camp is attempting to deflect attention away from Biden’s lead sponsorship (which he brags about here) by noting that Sanders also voted for it.

That is factually true but deeply misleading. What is omitted is that Clinton, making use of a well worn executive strategy to undermine  congressional opposition, combined the Crime Bill with the Violence Against Women Act.   Consequently, a vote against would constitute a betrayal of women victimized by violence while a vote for would amount to complicity in the criminalization of generations of black youth.  Opponents of the Crime Bill (including Sanders who forcefully spoke out against it ) faced a Sophie’s choice engineered by Clinton, and that is how one of the great legislative atrocities in recent history was able to pass both chambers.

While the cynicism is jaw dropping, one has to give Clinton and Biden credit for their mastery of the heads-I-win tails-you-lose game. They knew that they would be able to use a yea or a nay as ammunition against those trying to hold them responsible for the atrocity they enacted. And that is exactly the card Biden is playing-two and half decades later- via his spokesperson, Symone Sanders. (1)

None of this history is unknown or at all arcane. But it should be better understood.  And I suspect it will be as Biden’s competitors in the Democratic Primary do their job.

(1)  Sanders’s trajectory from Black Lives Matter activist to a spokesperson for a leading exponent of mass incarceration provides support for doubts Adolph Reed has raised about leadership elements within Black Lives Matter.

Update 5/5/19:

The comparison of the tough on crime policies with the Waffen SS has gotten some push back, generally within comments which fail to  reference the two million who are paying the price, these being overwhelmingly African American males 1/4 of whom are either on parole, probation or in local, state or federal prison.

One commenter explicitly comes out in support of the Crime Bill (something which even Biden himself no longer does) on the grounds that it *may* have played a role in the reduction of crime rates over the past decades.

Presumably, the omelet of less crime requires breaking a few eggs- the exact logic which Himmler or Goehring would have applauded.  Thus, rather than rebutting the claim of the piece that we are drifting closer to something like fascism, the comment actually reinforces it.

All this brings to mind Michelle Alexander’s term the new Jim Crow and also James Q. Whitman’s excellent book which documents how the old Jim Crow served as a “model” for Hitler’s genocidal policies. It stands to reason those cheering on either the hard (Trump) or soft (Biden) variants of fascism today approve of the criminal justice policies at its core.

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