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Witcover: Progressives target Biden record, defense of Obamacare

Joe Biden announces run for President.

Democratic progressives, concerned that former Vice President Joe Biden will thwart the party's further swing to the ideological left, are intensifying attacks on his record in the Senate, his continued defense of Obamacare and even his new-found personal wealth.

Many oppose Mr. Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign on grounds of his age (76 years) and his sometime inattentiveness to contemporary social and political sensibilities.

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They note that, after more than 40 years in relatively low-paying public service, he has begun to make big money in speaking fees and book contracts. It has enabled him to maintain a lakefront home in suburban Wilmington, Del., and buy a new oceanside house in nearby Rehoboth Beach.

In quest of more detailed information about his government service, the Washington Post and other news media have petitioned his alma mater, the University of Delaware, and the University of Pennsylvania, where he now holds an academic chair, for early access to the public and private papers Mr. Biden has donated.

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Pursuing information about a prominent public figure seeking the presidency is legitimate and understandable. It comes as his candidacy also must cope with heavy political criticism from rival Oval Office seekers.

Many Democrats and other voters are equally concerned that divisions in the party of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could compromise the central objective of removing Donald Trump via the ballot box a year from November.

Two challengers, Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have drawn sharp lines of difference with Mr. Biden on his past and present policy positions without specific reference to his age.

Ms. Harris in her first television debate cleverly ambushed him on his long-ago opposition to busing to combat racial segregation in Delaware public schools. She disclosed that as a young girl in California she benefited from school busing. Her criticism of Mr. Biden was reflected in her rise in the polls and in Mr. Biden’s slippage.

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Ms. Warren, for her part, has relied more on differences with the former vice president over current issues for her own rise in the polls. Principally, she has embraced Sen. Bernie Sanders’s federally funded Medicare For All concept that would eliminate the need for private sector health care insurance.

Mr. Biden has drawn a sharp line in favor of providing voters a “public option” to buy health coverage from a government entity, but he also advocates retaining private health insurance enjoyed by millions of working Americans, whose premiums are now paid by their employers or unions. In doing so, Mr. Biden has cast himself as defender of the Obamacare legislation he helped craft as vice president.

In the first debate, Ms. Harris raised her hand in support of eliminating private health coverage in favor of Medicare For All. But subsequently she said she had misunderstood the question and supports the public option for continued private coverage, as does Biden.

A third Democratic candidate, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, has backed the public option from the start. In the months ahead, and in the approaching twin Democratic debates on July 30-31, the issue seems certain to be raised by a moderator or by Mr. Biden himself as Obamacare’s co-creator and champion.

As his challengers explore new sources of information on his past controversial policy decisions, Joe Biden at 76 banks on his image as Mr. Middle Class, willing to reach across party lines and drawing support from old Democratic moderates, liberals and progressives as well.

His recent speech on foreign policy, reinforcing his long embrace of NATO and the European Union, underscores his argument for being the 2020 Democratic nominee most able to take on Donald Trump at the ballot box next year.

Mr. Trump insists he would welcome facing Mr. Biden, who he says would be the easiest Democrat to beat, but polls suggest otherwise. A recent Washington Post/ABC survey had Mr. Biden winning over MR. Trump, 53% to 43 among registered voters, well ahead of other Democratic contenders against the incumbent. Such polls remain the best argument in favor of nominating him.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power” (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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