Joe Biden’s “Susan Happ” problem

With Vice President Joe Biden likely to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, I do want to bring up an historical parallel between Biden’s likely presidential bid and Jefferson County, Wisconsin District Attorney Susan Happ’s failed bid for Attorney General of Wisconsin last year.

The parallel between Biden and Happ is this: Both Biden and Happ are/were, prior to running for higher office (or, in Happ’s case, after winning a statewide Democratic primary in Wisconsin), viewed favorably by voters not because of their actual track records or positions on the issues, but because they liked the candidates personally. In Biden’s case, he’s seen by many voters across the country as an approachable guy with an interesting personality. In Happ’s case, she was seen by many voters in Wisconsin as someone who rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in a television ad.

Happ’s campaign to become Wisconsin’s top prosecutor fell apart not long after Happ won a contested Democratic primary with a narrow majority of the vote. Republicans and the far-right corporate media in Wisconsin viciously attacked Happ’s record as a county-level prosecutor, making her look like a corrupt prosecutor who gave out light sentences to Democrats and political cronies, when, in reality, it was a major distortion of Happ’s record. The sustained attack on Happ damaged her campaign and allowed Republican racist Brad Schimel to be elected Attorney General of Wisconsin.

Biden has a legitimately awful record, especially as a U.S. Senator from Delaware, including, among other things:

  • Helping put right-wing extremist Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court despite serious sexual harassment allegations against Thomas
  • Voting to repeal the Glass-Steagall regulations on banks and other financial institutions, which led to the Great Recession
  • Voting for the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA), which prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages prior to being ruled unconstitutional by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court
  • Publicly claiming that “abortion is always wrong”
  • Helping enact legislation, signed into law by George W. Bush, that made it harder for Americans to file for bankruptcy
  • Helping enact legislation that expanded the prison-industrial complex in the United States
  • Voting for George W. Bush’s unjustified Iraq War

It wouldn’t take much for one of the Democratic presidential candidates already in the race to brand Biden as an awful politician, if Biden were to run.

I believe that there is an important lesson that is to be learned from the failure of Susan Happ’s campaign for Wisconsin Attorney General last year. When one runs for public office, his or her track record can, either fairly or unfairly, be used against him or her by any political opponent. While Joe Biden’s decision on whether or not to run for president is entirely Joe Biden’s decision to make, I would caution him that his record as a U.S. Senator would likely come back to haunt him politically.

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