Joe Biden and Kamala Harris represent much of what I loathe in politicians, particularly the way they've wielded power in the world of criminal justice.
Biden is one of the key architects of the failed, immoral War on Drugs, and a supporter of almost every US military intervention of the past half-century.
Harris, as a district attorney and attorney general, cracked down on poor people and addicts, while turning a blind eye to police and prosecutorial corruption.
So why am I voting for these ethically compromised, power-hungry career politicians? It's simple: Donald Trump has been president for almost four years.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
Related: We combined Trump and Biden's separate town halls
Joe Biden and Kamala Harris represent, respectively, the go-along-to-get-along stasis of a lifelong politician and the frightening potential for abuse by a cop on a well-meaning crusade.
Particularly when it comes to civil liberties and criminal justice reform — umbrella terms for the issues with which I'm most politically engaged — they have absolutely terrible records as overreaching "tough on crime" politicians.
And yet I'm going to vote for the Democratic ticket anyway — resolutely, though not without some lamentation that it has come to this — because Donald Trump's presidency is that indefensible and destructive.
Voting while holding one's nose
It feels terrible to vote for candidates you dislike or distrust, but we've all got our own political calculus. Mine is centered on an unbending desire to see Trump's political career end in humiliating defeat.
An ideal scenario would be voters rendering Trumpism toxic overnight by not only firing him from the presidency, but giving Democrats full control of Congress. Only when Trump proves himself a liability to the party he hijacked can the GOP be reborn as something resembling their supposed ideals, a free market-supporting center-right party that wouldn't pursue policies like an economically damaging trade war.
Not because my political identity is particularly fascinating, but merely for the context of this column, I've taken to calling myself a "civil libertarian," mainly because civil liberties issues are what animate me most.
At various times I've voted for Libertarian, Republican, and Democratic presidential tickets. I'm atypical in the American electorate — a politically-active registered independent who rejects the duopoly and truly holds no allegiance to either liberal or conservative orthodoxy.
Point being, I'm nobody's reliable Democratic voter.
And I am not voting for Biden/Harris because I have any hope of them "uniting" the country or "returning us to normalcy." With some of the most prominent voices on the left twisting themselves into pretzels to justify rioting and looting, and the US' major right-leaning party openly embracing QAnon conspiracy theorists and bigots, I'm confident this country is politically and culturally broken, and will be for some time.
Biden and Harris have my vote despite their deplorable records in government. Those records are a primer on what they could do in the most powerful office in the world. I want them to be kept honest about those records.
Biden made bad laws, Harris enforced laws badly
Way back when there were 20-something Democratic presidential candidates, I zeroed-in on Biden and Harris as the two I'd least like to see at the top of the ticket.
Biden presented himself as America's folksy, work-across-the-aisle, "get stuff done" lawmaker. And boy did he get stuff done.
Over four decades as a senator from Delaware, Biden tried to outdo the Reagan-era Republicans in crafting Drug War legislation. He helped create the role of federal "drug czar." He was instrumental in drafting the mass incarceration-exacerbating 1994 Crime Bill. He bragged about introducing legislation that did "everything but hang people for jaywalking."
Even in the 2000s he was the Senate's reliably out-of-touch Democratic narc, pushing to criminalize raves, arrest party promoters, and urging local municipalities to use the "crack-house legislation" he co-sponsored in 1986 to bust up parties.
Most Americans now favor the decriminalization of drugs and recognize the damage wrought by mandatory sentencing and mass incarceration.
Biden has supported nearly every US military intervention of the past half century (though to his credit, he opposed President Obama's intervention in Libya, which proved disastrous).
But Biden can't escape the fact that as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he enthusiastically whipped Democratic support for President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq — unquestionably the US' worst foreign policy fiasco since the Vietnam War.
Harris' record isn't nearly as long as Biden's, but that doesn't mean she hasn't notched some dubious feats of her own.
Awkwardly selling herself as both a no-nonsense prosecutor and as a woke, hip-hop loving, former pot smoker, Harris' political career cannot be divorced from her work as a self-described "top cop."
Though Harris says as a district attorney and California's attorney general she was a "progressive prosecutor," Harris was, in fact, both tough-on-crime and soft-on-bad cops.
As Reason's Elizabeth Nolan Brown put it:
"Every attorney general fights for state power and police prerogatives. It's part of the job. But over and over again, Harris went beyond the call of duty, fighting for harsher sentences, larger bail requirements, longer prison terms, more prosecution of petty crimes, greater criminal justice involvement in low-income and minority communities, less due process for people in the system, less transparency, and less accountability for bad cops."
As San Francisco's DA, Harris' office turned a blind eye for years to a corrupt police lab technician whose work resulted in hundreds of convictions. She aggressively cracked down on parents of truant kids. She pushed to bar addicts with prior convictions for selling drugs from Drug Courts, which allow non-violent drug offenders to avoid jail time if they complete a drug rehabilitation program.
The progressive-leaning American Prospect wrote that as California attorney general, Harris "repeatedly and openly defied US Supreme Court orders to reduce overcrowding in California prisons," adding that "Harris and her legal team filed motions that were condemned by judges and legal experts as obstructionist, bad-faith, and nonsensical, at one point even suggesting that the Supreme Court lacked the jurisdiction to order a reduction in California's prison population."
Also as AG, Harris' office fought to keep an exonerated man in prison because his lawyers had missed a filing deadline, and only freed him from prison once compelled to do so by the courts. Harris' office tried to keep exonerated former prisoners from collecting financial compensation from the state that wrongfully stole years of their lives. Her office was also known to "slow roll" investigations into corrupt or abusive cops and prosecutors.
So why am I voting for these ethically compromised, power-hungry career politicians?
It's simple: Donald Trump has been president for almost four years.
Look around, this mess is Trump's legacy
This isn't 2016 anymore, where we can play "wouldn't it be nice" imagination games about how a brash political outsider could shake up the system and rise to the occasion.
Much of what was feared about a Trump presidency has come to bear.
On his watch, the GOP has decisively abandoned fiscal conservatism and sat idly while he personally dismantled the alliances that preserved the US-led post-World War II international order. He has normalized casual racism and baseless conspiracy theory-mongering. He has presided over the worst national coronavirus response in the developed world, resulting in the deaths of nearly 220,000 Americans.
As for his boasts of being a great criminal justice reformer, Trump deserves credit for championing prison reform by signing the First Step Act. However, Trump's Justice Department is chipping away at its effectiveness. He also reversed Obama administration policy and rebooted the federal government's program of giving excess military equipment to local police departments. Just this week he celebrated an extrajudicial police killing. And Trump's as pro-police union — the most immovable opponents of reform — as it gets.
That said, wanting Trump gone by any democratic means necessary doesn't mean the Democrats get a pass.
Concerns about the Democratic Party taking a hard left turn on economic and social issues are ones I share. We desperately need to address climate change, but the Green New Deal isn't remotely workable in its current form. The growing left-wing trend of using racial essentialism to achieve "justice" is one I wholeheartedly reject. And I think it's positively nuts for liberals to be calling for billionaire tech bros to be the arbiters of truth online.
With hope, I'll be throwing rhetorical rocks at a Biden administration come January 20 and for four years thereafter. (And yes, I was an idiot to declare Biden's candidacy dead after he wiped out in Iowa and New Hampshire.)
Whatever objections I might have to a Biden administration's policies, I have faith that it would competently manage the machinery of government, rather than hollow it out and replace it with nothing, as Trump did.
I've never felt worse about voting for a presidential ticket, but I'm doing it this year, unapologetically and enthusiastically. My hands would probably be shaking as I shade in the ovals on the ballot, if pandemic-life hadn't robbed me of the ability to feel emotion.
And yet I'm completely resolved in my decision to vote for the Democrats, simply because Trump and Trumpism must be repudiated by the greatest number of Americans as possible in the clearest of terms. For me in 2020, a third party protest vote just isn't as loud as a Democratic protest vote.
The Republicans can thank Donald Trump for my 2020 Democratic vote.
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