(Update added below)
Last August, the Democrats held a presidential debate in Chicago. Seven hopefuls participated, with former sportscaster Keith Olbermann moderating the televised event on MSNBC. It was sponsored by the AFL-CIO and took place before 15,000 union activists at Soldier Field.
You'd think the candidates at a Democratic debate dealing with issues relevant to working men and women would be asked about the infamous bankruptcy bill signed two years earlier by President George W. Bush. Oddly, you'd be wrong. Olbermann never mentioned it.
This wasn't the first time Congress had passed this shameful act. Bill Clinton vetoed it in the 90's, so we know where he stands. The credit industry, ever relentless, kept coming back, confidant they had the number of elected officials necessary to do their bidding. They did, and Joe Biden was always one of them.
The final version of the bill was cleverly titled the "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005," but it wasn't aimed at preventing abuse or protecting consumers, and everyone knew it.
Arianna Huffington wrote on salon.com in March 2005 that this legislation was "so hostile to ordinary American families that it could only have come about in a place as corrupt, cynical and unmoored from reality as Washington, D.C." She concluded: "The bankruptcy bill is morally bankrupt. And so is any senator who votes for it." She defined the problem:
"So what does the bill do? It makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child-support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of equity in homes and asset-protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to rein in lending abuses...."
It turns out the average annual income of Americans who file bankruptcy is less than $30K, not the loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires gigging the system that we all heard about when this bill was debated. Also, the vast majority of people who file bankruptcy don't do so to strategically hang on to their mansion on the hill, but because of medical bills, a job layoff, or both. Real people, real lives.
I've never filed bankruptcy, but like Bill Clinton I'm moved by those demographics. Not so our Joe. Of all the presidential contenders lined up on the stage in Chicago, he was the only one who had voted for the bill. Not senators Dodd, Clinton and Obama (Edwards was no longer in the senate in '05), and not House member Dennis Kucinich. Only Joe Biden.
And he didn't just vote for it, he helped carry the water on it. Some Democrats tried to soften the bill with a series of amendments; for example, exempting military personnel at war in Iraq. Biden joined the majority of his colleagues -- all the Republicans and too many Democrats -- in knocking down every possible change that was offered.
For the record, Biden's home state holds the incorporation papers of large credit card and financial services companies. He obviously knows how his bread is buttered in Delaware, which means a "profile in courage" by 'ol Joe on the bankruptcy bill was out of the question.
Sure, Biden has a certain rogue charisma combined with what he's developed over the years as serious experience on the senate foreign relations committee. He's no idiot, and I support the Democratic ticket. But if part of the calculation in picking him is that he'll sell economic populism in the heartland, from Perkiomen to Peoria, that's a cynical joke -- whether it succeeds or not.
(By the way, this is an issue Republicans probably won't hit Biden on because they're as much in the same industry's pocket as he is, and McCain always loved the bankruptcy bill, too.)
Still, anyone who cares about progressive politics, or the salt of the earth, knows that the bankruptcy bill is a disaster for average folks. Joe Biden is a big reason why this is so. He supported it and voted for it, many times over many years.
That speaks volumes about how a longtime Beltway insider views the rest of the country.
UPDATE: I raised an eyebrow, and then my wine glass, when I heard Barack Obama drop the following little morsel into his acceptance speech Thursday night at the Democratic National Convention in Denver: "Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws..."
Nothing is in a politician's prepared text by accident. Not the 16 words in Bush's State of the Union speech about Iraq buying yellow cake from Niger, and not this bankruptcy item on Barack's economic wish list. One can presume there's been sufficient chatter on the subject, both inside and outside the campaign. Clearly it demanded a shout-out, and got one....from the 50 yard line at Mile High!
It takes a village.
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