President Ronald Reagan not only had a huge influence on the GOP and the conservative movement in the 1980s — he also inspired many centrist Democrats to incorporate conservative language and shy away from overtly liberal/progressive policies. One of them, according to the Daily Beast’s Sam Stein, was 2020 Democratic presidential frontrunner and former Vice President Joe Biden. And Stein, in an August 29 article for the Beast, notes how Reagan-like Biden often sounded when, as a U.S. senator representing Delaware, he aggressively pushed for welfare reform in the 1980s and 1990s.
Stein recalls that in 1988, Biden wrote an op-ed for the Newark Post (that’s Newark, Delaware, not Newark, New Jersey) emphasizing that the welfare system was being widely abused —which was a Reagan talking point. Biden asserted, “Unfortunately, our current system of welfare has failed to meet the goal of self-improvement and has relieved the recipients of the incentive to take control of their future.” Too many welfare recipients, Biden argued, had entered “a cycle of dependence.”
Stein notes how much Biden’s 1988 op-ed “echoed” the “rhetoric of conservatives at the time” even though it wasn’t quite a “full embrace” of that rhetoric. And with that op-ed, Stein asserts, Biden was “adding to the perception that the problem wasn’t poverty itself, but poor people abusing poverty-fighting programs.”
Adrianne Shropshire, executive director of BlackPAC and the Black Progressive Action Coalition, told the Daily Beast that Biden’s 1988 op-ed promoted Reagan’s “notion of fraudulent, undeserving women.”
In the early 1990s, Stein notes, President Bill Clinton voted to “end welfare as we know it”—and he found a major ally in Biden. During the Clinton era, Stein points out, Biden was “hardly a conservative ideologue” but did use “traditional conservative rhetoric” when he complained that “too many welfare recipients spend far too long on welfare and do far too little in exchange for their benefits.”
Nonetheless, Stein concludes his piece by quoting former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile and noting that she doesn’t appear to be too worried about Biden’s willingness to use Reagan-like rhetoric in the past.
“The question remains,” Stein quotes Brazile as saying, “where is he now?”