Joe Biden has emerged as the Democratic primary frontrunner barely a week after announcing his candidacy. After spending eight years as America’s cool uncle Vice President, he has a far higher profile than the other presidential hopefuls. But other than not being Donald Trump, he hasn’t said what he’d do as president. Biden offers no original policy ideas or radical solutions to questions of climate change, criminal justice reform or healthcare. And while he talks tough on Trump, he’s soft on the President’s fellow Republicans. It seems like a play to lure Trump voters and appeal to people turned off by combative politics.
Biden’s appeal is his “electability,” a dubious metric invented by Democrats hoping to prop up establishment candidates. The truth is he seems as electable as Hillary Clinton, who was guaranteed to beat Trump yet somehow didn’t.
It’s too early to say Democrats are repeating their 2016 mistakes. But Biden’s immediate poll bump got us wondering how he stacks up to Clinton. Here’s how Biden compares to Clinton on key issues in the 2020 campaign.
Clinton and Biden both acknowledge climate change’s existence but seem unwilling to propose and initiate the change needed to fight it. (This will be a running theme.) Clinton’s campaign proposed boosting subsidies and offering tax incentives to install more than 500 million solar panels across the U.S. by the end of her first term. Climate experts panned the idea for insufficiently addressed rising CO2 levels. Biden proposed Congress’ first climate bill back in 1986, but it simply called for forming a task force and (obviously) never passed. His 2020 campaign website contains similar vague acknowledgement he’s trotted out before, that climate change is a danger from “beachfront coastal towns to rural farms in the heartland.”
Verdict: They’re more or less the same.
Criminal Justice Reform
Biden has a sketchy past on criminal justice. He authored the 1994 Crime Bill, which “expanded a criminal justice system that enhanced racial inequities in the enforcement of the law.” Biden also did his part to advance the War on Drugs by advocating punitive drug policies and mass incarceration. Clinton was also concerned about crime in the mid-1990s, when she dropped her infamous “superpredator” comments. She defended her husband’s Crime Bill but later acknowledged its mistakes while running for president.
Verdict: Biden’s history is more actionable and therefore worse.
Both Clinton and Biden supported the Affordable Care Act. In 2016, Clinton promised to expand on it by creating a public option and decreasing the Medicare qualifying age to 55. Biden is taking a similar route in 2020, discussing the expansion of Obamacare and calling for giving every American the option of buying into Medicare, maintaining the private option centrists love so much.
Verdict: Could not be more similar. No meaningful change foreseen.
Bernie Sanders forced Clinton left on income inequality. In 2016, she proposed increased income taxes on the highest earning Americans and increasing the federal minimum wage. Biden has made the middle class central to his early campaign, kicking off his campaign in front of a local labor union in Pittsburgh, Pa.—even though he’s “never taken a political risk for workers.” He’s discussed increasing taxes on the richest Americans, but has also made sure not to paint them as “the bad guys.”
Verdict: Biden appears more openly committed to increasing wages and helping workers than Clinton was in 2016. Appears is the operative word, of course.
As recently as 2014, Clinton called for the deportation of undocumented immigrants and their children. Her campaign’s immigration language softened in 2016, but it wasn’t so long ago she sounded a lot like Trump, as this video shows. Biden has flailed wildly on immigration. According to Jacobin’s Branko Marcetic, “in times of pressure or right-wing ascendence, Biden has opted to make common cause with conservative efforts to stoke fears around immigration and seek continuity instead of a break with consensus.”
Verdict: Like true centrists, both talk progressive and act conservative when they think they’ll gain an advantage.
Relationship with Finance Industry
Clinton banked big fees from speeches at Goldman Sachs in 2015. Her 2016 campaign rhetoric was slightly tougher on the financial sector, but that didn’t stop Wall Street from bankrolling her campaign. Biden will likely court similar donors, and Wall Street Democrats consider him acceptable to their interests, even if they think his prospects of winning are weak.
Verdict: Clinton talked tough but welcomed big money. Biden will do the same in 2020.
Relationship with Tech Industry
Clinton also received major financial backing from the tech industry in 2016 and spoke highly of it throughout her campaign. It’s hard to tell this early in the process where Silicon Valley’s money will go, but Biden has show a similar affinity for telecommunications giants. His first fundraiser was also hosted by Comcast’s chief lobbyist.
Verdict: Both love big tech.
How Much Conservatives Hate Them
Biden essentially walks in lockstep with Clinton on many issues, even three years removed from her failed campaign. That doesn’t bode well for Democrats if he becomes the nominee. Perhaps the only real factor separating Biden from Clinton is that he isn’t a 24-hour waking conservative nightmare. Right wing media, pundits and politicians vilified the Clintons for years. By the time 2016 rolled around, Hillary Clinton was the name brand evil mastermind of Benghazi stashing government secrets on her private email server. It took years and several controversies for that image to stick, and Biden just doesn’t inspire as much right wing vitriol. Progressive policies are also more mainstream now, and with at least two true progressives running in the primary, there’s a chance Biden would be pushed further to the left on certain issues than Clinton was in 2016.
Verdict: Advantage Biden. But conservatives hating you less isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement.