In 1972, moderate Republican J. Caleb Boggs was running for reelection, albeit reluctantly. He was 63 years old and felt done with politics. Running up against him was a 29-year old who wasn’t given much of a chance: Joe Biden. Initially, Biden was 30 points underwater but with his hard work, enthusiasm, and ability to connect with voters, on election day he narrowly upset Boggs. He had in truth been ready to retire. Upon taking office, by which time he had turned the constitutionally required age of 30, he was the sixth youngest senator in American history. Biden established himself as a liberal Democrat and for the most part he was. However, in a few ways he was different, and most notable, as I have written about before, was his turn against busing as a means for desegregation. Many of Delaware’s voters disapproved of it as did a substantial minority of Democratic senators, and Biden ultimately tacked enough to the center to win reelection by 16 points in 1978. Aside from the busing issue, Biden was a vote for expanding the federal role in civil rights. He progressively did better and better on his reelections until 2002, when he won by 18 points and for the first time since 1972 lost one of Delaware’s three counties. In 1987, as head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he played a leading role in sinking the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and did so for ideological reasons. In 1988, Biden made his first run for president, but he ran into trouble after plagiarizing a speech from a British Labor politician that recounted his childhood. On the Supreme Court, Biden has been a regular partisan…if the vote on a Supreme Court justice from Republicans has been controversial, Biden has been a vote against it: he voted against Rehnquist in 1986 and Roberts in 2005. Perhaps from a progressive standpoint this offsets his vote for the second Iraq War in 2002, as his opposition to the troop surge in 2007. Speaking of, Biden voted against the first one in 1991. In 2008, he made another bid for the presidency, but he was easily outdone in support by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
On abortion, Biden’s record historically is more mixed than you might think. In 1976, he voted for the Hyde Amendment, which he only recently disavowed. Biden also on other occasions voted against federal abortion funding. During the second Bush Administration, Biden voted for the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act but against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. Although historically he was a bit pro-life, he is the headliner of an overwhelmingly pro-choice party and will act accordingly should he be elected. Biden is a living example of how the Democratic Party has changed on the issue overtime.
A point of contention against Biden’s record, which from many quarters is in truth disingenuous, was his sponsorship of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which played a minor role in increased incarceration throughout the United States. Conservative Republicans opposed the bill for its ten-year ban on 19 types of “assault weapons” as well as what they called “unnecessary social programs” that inflated the measure’s cost. The “tough on crime” aspects were not the reasons for Republicans to oppose the bill, and those among them who turn around and say that’s a disqualifier for Biden are being disingenuous if they know the history. The truth is that both parties wished to be “tough on crime” back in 1994 and Republican disagreement was on gun policy and too much focus on social programs. Part of the crime bill was the Violence Against Women Act, which provides federal grants to states for domestic violence prevention, which Biden specifically sponsored as well.
Per the MC-Index, in the 100th and 110th Congresses, Biden scored his lowest at a zero. These were the last two years of the Reagan and Bush II Administrations respectively, in which Democratic scores tended to be lower than usual on the scale. His highest scores were during the Carter Administration, scoring a 34% in the 95th Congress and a 24% in the 96th Congress. Biden’s life score is overall an 11%. This means he has been a solid liberal in his career overall, although not as radical as some of the younger Democrats wish he was.
My view on Biden is that as a presidential candidate, he is second-rate, and that in any other year he would be treated as such as he was in 1988 (he lost the nomination to another second-rater) and 2008. The vice presidency was basically a reward for his long years of service, and he himself is a living example of the Democratic Party’s change over the years. However, our current president has lowered standards to the point that Biden, now in his late seventies and more gaffe-prone than ever, is viable. Make of that what you will.
Cooper, K.J. (1994, August 14). GOP’s Beef with Beleaguered Crime Bill Shifts to Pork. The Washington Post.