After an incredibly cursed back-and forth about healthcare and Joe Biden getting owned into oblivion by Julián Castro, the conversation in tonight’s high-stakes Democratic debate turned to racism and criminal justice reform. Not particularly Biden’s strong suit, so the former vice president just decided to chuck his entire career out the window and start fresh.
In his answer, Biden said that criminal justice reform should focus on rehabilitation. “There are so many people in jail who shouldn’t be,” Biden said. “No one should be in jail for a nonviolent crime.”
Before I even got a chance to say, “He’s gonna walk that back,” his campaign walked that back.
Still, this would seem like an okay start—at least the bare minimum—if Biden hadn’t played such a significant role in throwing people in jail for the past 40 years. Starting from the beginning of his Senate career, Biden was arguing that Democrats should be more like George Wallace when it came to crime. He told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1975:
“Why should we apologize for locking up criminals? How did we let that happen,” Biden says. “I think law and order is a traditional liberal issue—not a conservative issue. I think the Democratic Party could stand a liberal George Wallace—someone who’s not afraid to stand upo and offe3nd people, someone who wouldn’t pander, but would say what the American people know in their gut is right.”
Biden then spent the bulk of the 1980s and 1990s working with conservatives such as notorious white supremacist Strom Thurmond in overhauling the nation’s criminal statutes, all to make them exponentially tougher. The result was the infamous 1994 “crime bill,” which did pretty much exactly that, and has played a significant role in mass incarceration.
In short: either Joe Biden has decided to become a completely new politician at the age of 76, or he’s not actually serious about anything he’s saying. Considering his campaign already had to cover for him once tonight, I’d bet money on the latter.