Authored by Julian Paul Butt
Biden is one of the key architects of mass incarceration, the racist drug war in the United States, and neoliberal economic policies that have entrenched corporatocracy in the Democratic Party.
The war on drugs is and has always been about using the monopoly of violence of the state to fight class war on behalf of the investor classes, targeting the poor and people of color, keeping both marginalized, divided, and disenfranchised.
Slavery never ended in the United States, it moved exclusively into the prison industrial complex.
Crime is a form of aberrant behavior that is in conflict with the mandates of the state and specifically its violent enforcement. The social structure of late-stage capitalism virtually guarantees that aberrant behavior will be concentrated in poor communities due to alienation and marginalization in economic, political, and social-psychological spheres and the violent response of the state will be concentrated in the same spaces.
Poverty creates crime, for social, economic, and political reasons. The aberrant behavior of people in upper social strata is rarely "crime," as such, because it's either institutionally normalized, such as the theft of labor-power in wages, or it's not treated as criminal in what are often called "white collar crimes."
This is not a corrective measure for treatment of irregular, social anomalies, it's a method of containment in response to the inevitable consequences of a highly centralized, power-concentrated, stratified civilization. It is the state engaged in active class war.
When politicians talk about "tough on crime" policies, they aren't speaking of mitigating the underlying causes of most of the criminally aberrant behavior (poverty and its associated economic and psychological consequences), nor in treating these behaviors afterwards, but using prisons to quarantine "offenders" from society.
After being caged in an institution designed to dehumanize, those released from captivity have narrowed economic and housing opportunities, they're stripped of voting rights and self defense, and further alienated and marginalized with social stigma and ostracization from other social institutions.
97% of cases go to plea deal because most cases involve people without the resources to fight a trial or post bail, with overstretched public defenders only able to devote literally minutes to each case, and the trial penalty of prosecutors and judges retaliating against anyone with the audacity to demand trial by jury. It doesn't matter if one is innocent, the arrest is the moment when a person will be found guilty, it just remains to be seen for what.
The United States locks up more people than any other country on Earth, including North Korea, Russia, and China; at a cost to Federal and State governments of over $80 billion, annually, just for incarceration. About 2.2 million are incarcerated, with an additional 4.7 million on probation or parole.
The drug war gave the ultimate all-purpose excuse for warrantless searches and seizures, so the poor and communities of color could be targeted and occupied like a war zone. Police, who are sent out looking for trouble, find it. Instead of treating addiction, a social, biological, and psychological phenomenon, the response is to criminalize it. This isn't about reducing drug abuse, it's about criminalizing poverty, in order to contain the symptoms of capitalism with the tool of violence.
The organized poor are an existential threat to the state and late-stage capitalist order. The continuous disruption of stability through harassment, intimidation, and terrorizing in marginalized and poor communities in what are effectively occupied neighborhoods, where police patrol streets with firearms and military equipment, creates schisms and psychological distress that ensure a feedback loop of discord.
The increased focus on "gun-control" will serve exactly the same functions as the drug war, while doing nothing to mitigate the two-thirds of fatalities from firearms coming from suicide, because that's not its purpose. Gun-control, so-called, in the US began in earnest with the NRA and then governor of California, Ronald Reagan, in response the Black Panther Party legally exercising their 2nd amendment rights. That's about what it has always been. It will have little impact on "mass shootings," or shootings involving four or more fatalities, which account for less than one percent of homicides, but it will do a lot to give more excuses for warrantless searches and seizures, which will lead to more arrests that end up in plea bargains, regardless of innocence.
"The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
-John Ehrlichman in an interview in 1994, who served as domestic policy chief under the Richard Nixon regime
How Did We Get Here?
For just shy of four decades, Biden has been spearheading so-called tough-on-crime policies, the drug war, and fighting for corporate America, with a Democrat D painted on the hull of the ship as camouflage for neoliberal economic policies and reactionary, police-state domestic policies.
Ronald Reagan, who escalated the war on drugs, in no small part at Biden's behest in the Senate, didn't want to take it as far as Biden. Throughout the 80s, Biden criticized the Reagan regime for not spending enough on police and prisons, as he did with Carter before. Then, Bush senior's drug war was, according to Biden, “not tough enough, bold enough, or imaginative enough to meet the crisis at hand.”
In 1978, he backed legislation that limited bankruptcy protections for students and extended those limits in 1984.
In 1979, he voted for the Justice System Improvement Act of 1979, which included the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program that opened prison slave labor up to exploitation by the private sector.
In 1983, he introduced the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act in 1983, which became part of the following year's Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The act gave sweeping powers to police to seize assets from citizens.
In 1984, he lead the fight with Strom Thurman and cosponsored the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The act includes "civil asset forfeiture," which allows police to take assets from citizens without proving guilt, increased penalties for cannabis, and mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. It also curbed bail and eliminated parole. This was too much for Reagan the first time they tried it in 1982, which he vetoed then.
In 1986, he co-authored and sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act. This, in part, targeted crack-cocaine with vastly higher minimum sentencing than powdered, with the former more heavily used at the time by people in black communities and the latter more heavily used among people in affluent, white communities, though both are pharmacologically about the same. It increased minimum sentencing for other drug offenses from the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The law increased the average prison time for drug crimes from 22 months to 33 months.
In 1988, an eponymous drug war act, which built upon the 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, was cosponsored and pushed by Biden. It lengthened sentences for many offenses and created the office for a "drug czar" that Biden had sought for years, in the effort to institutionalize the drug war. It also re-established the death penalty, which was struck down as unconstitutional.
In 1990, he sponsored the 1990 Crime Control Act, which lengthened the time students would have to wait before they got access to traditional bankruptcy protections for student loans. The bill toughened criminal sentences and provided for the indefinite continuation of the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program.
In 1991, he introduced the Comprehensive Counterterrorism Act and the Violent Crime Control Act, which didn't pass, but would have required manufacturers of secure communications equipment to build backdoors into their products for law enforcement surveillance.
In 1993, he supported NAFTA, a neoliberal North American trade policy that loosened regulations for corporations and protections for workers and local industries. He would later support the Trans Pacific Partnership, which would have been a massive win for corporations at the expense of worker and environmental protections and national sovereignty.
In 1994, Biden's big drug war and police-state victory was delivered from the Democratic Party and the Clinton regime. He wrote the "Crime Bill," also known as Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This sweeping, $30 billion law increased funding to build prisons and grant programs for local and state police. Mandatory minimum sentencing was increased, it included the "three strikes" rule, and it expanded the death penalty to 60 new offenses. It introduced the so-called assault weapons ban while expanding the groups prohibited from owning firearms. It eliminated higher education for inmates through the Pell Grant and made drug testing mandatory for those serving on federal supervised release.
The impact on federal incarceration wasn't necessarily as significant as it's indirect impact on mass incarceration by states, which cage the majority of people. It set a tone of mass incarceration policies at a national level that were imitated at state levels, while providing funding and incentives for states to enact these policies, with a specific focus on the drug war. It also encouraged state "truth in sentencing" laws, requiring inmates to serve a minimum of 85% of their time locked up without early release.
While black people are far more likely to be arrested for drug use, with longer sentences than white people, they are not significantly more or less likely to use illegal drugs, making the focus on the drug war in this bill particularly damaging to black people in the United States.
That same year, he introduced the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which required telecom carriers and manufacturers to design their equipment and services so they're accessible to law enforcement surveillance.
In 1995, Biden co-authored and introduced the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act, which was the precursor to the USA PATRIOT Acts, all of which dramatically curbed civil liberties, including expanding state surveillance. He voted for the USA PATRIOT Act under the George W. Bush regime and it's reauthorization, which allowed, among other things, warrantless wiretaps.
In 1996, he voted for NDAA FY-1997, which crucially included the 1033 program. Besides regularly voting for funding the military-industrial-complex, which is over half of annual Federal discretionary spending and more than the next seven countries combined, this program is what largely helped militarize police, that and the grants from the Crime Bill that contributed to a massive increase in SWAT teams.
That same year he supported and voted for the so-called welfare reform bill, which did exactly as Clinton promised, to "end welfare as we know it." The bill made it much more difficult for poor people to get and maintain help, dropping over half of recipients after its passage. In 1988 he described "welfare moms driving luxury cars," a Republican, dog-whistle talking point.
In another rightward push of the Overton Window from the senator, he backed the anti-LGBTQ legislation, the Defense of Marriage Act that year. Likewise, throughout his career, he supported the Hyde Amendment, prohibiting Medicaid funding for abortions and he has repeatedly backed cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
In 1998, he supported yet more legislation to limit students' access to bankruptcy protections, with a similar version the very next year. In 1999, he would push yet again for legislation limiting bankruptcy protections, but it would ultimately die by pocket veto until it was resurrected in 2001, only to die again until its ultimate enaction in 2005.
In 1999, he voted for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall legislation, which regulated the separation between securities firms and commercial banks. While the legislation had been significantly eroded by 1999, the repeal may have contributed in part to the 2008 financial collapse, and only encouraged more of the then progressively high-risk financial behaviors that lead to the collapse and the "network contagion" that enabled the cascade of the crisis.
In 2001, besides voting for the USA PATRIOT Act, he voted for the Afghanistan invasion.
In 2002, he voted for the Iraq invasion.
In 2005, he championed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act. It made obtaining bankruptcy protections significantly more difficult and costly, and expanded the exemptions of student loans to be nearly impossible for bankruptcy protections, while affecting more students.
What Trump does through stupidity, incompetence, or ordinary, oligarchical nepotism; Biden has been doing for decades on purpose with a Democrat D painted on the hull. He has been fighting for decades for the prison-industrial-complex, the police-state, the drug war, corporate power; and against poor people, those with addictions, and those with debt.