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“Condescending,” “aggressive,” “entitled:” Biden makes few friends in Grinnell

Joe Biden has tried to cast Elizabeth Warren as “elitist” and “condescending.” After Biden’s CNN town hall on Monday, though, some of those in attendance felt that Biden was the more condescending candidate.

Julia Echikson ’20, who knows she will caucus but not yet who for, recounted a particularly galling interaction—especially for an undecided voter.

According to Echikson, after she expressed dissatisfaction with his answer to a question on Ukraine, “He kind of took my hands and he was like, ‘There’s nothing I can say that’s going to make you change your mind.’”

“That interaction kind of pissed me off, because it was a little patronizing,” Echikson said. “I still don’t think that’s the way a presidential candidate should act.”

In interviews with The S&B, students and faculty who attended the town hall used words like “condescending,” “aggressive” and “entitled” to describe Biden’s performance.

The town hall—which was held in Roberts Theatre—came as Biden has fallen to fourth in Iowa in multiple polls. At the same time, Elizabeth Warren has gained traction, and competition between the two has escalated, with Biden assailing Warren’s approach as “my way or the highway.”

Biden links this approach to Warren’s unyielding support for Medicare For All, which would eliminate private insurance in favor of a public system that would “put $11 trillion back in the hands of hard-working American people,” she told The S&B last week. Her campaign estimates the plan would cost $21.5 trillion in new federal spending over ten years.

Biden opposes Warren’s plan, instead proposing that Democrats build on the Affordable Care Act. Biden’s campaign says his plan will cost $750 billion over the next decade, but it will also leave around 3 percent of Americans without government insurance.

In regards to a question from Assistant Professor Joshua Marshack, anthropology, on health care, Biden took the opportunity to criticize Warren. “We have to be honest with the public. Bernie’s been honest,” Biden said, implicitly attacking Warren for not being honest about how she would pay for Medicare for All.

Warren has released a detailed plan—but only after sustained criticism that she refused to answer questions about whether or not she would raise taxes on the middle class to pay for Medicare For All (according to her plan, she will not).

During the town hall Biden said multiple times, “It’s not about [Warren]. It’s about the attitude that exists right now,” which, according to Biden, Warren adopts. He characterized that attitude as, “If you disagree with me, you must be bad,” and “I know more than you, let me tell you what to do.’”

But for Marshack, Biden was the candidate adopting that attitude. Marshack is a strong supporter of Bernie Sanders, and he intends to caucus for Sanders in February.

During a break, the Vice President stepped into the audience to speak with Marshack about his question, and Marshack said their exchange wasn’t entirely enjoyable. “I was a little star struck, particularly when he sort of jumped down at me. … I felt like he was trying to win me over, or kind of beat me into submission—maybe a little bit of both,” Marshack said.

Marshack described Biden as “condescending,” “arrogant” and “manipulative,” but he clarified that he doesn’t believe Biden is a bad person. “I think he means well. I think he’s probably a decent guy,” Marshack said.

Declan O’Reilly ’21, who asked Biden to compare modern events with the events of Watergate, said he’s leaning towards supporting Biden, but he’s not sure if he’s going to caucus.

O’Reilly agreed that Biden was “aggressive in getting his point across,” but he was skeptical when asked if Biden was condescending. “I didn’t feel like he was very condescending, but I wasn’t talking to him personally.”

O’Reilly also noted that he was “surprised” students were so confrontational when approaching Biden. “Four years ago, I don’t think any one of those students would have considered yelling at him in the way that they did,” O’Reilly said.

Multiple students approached Biden after the cameras stopped rolling to challenge the former Vice President.

Keir Hichens ’22 asked Biden about his climate change plan, intimating that it amounted to “compromise.”

“It’s not compromise!” Biden responded during a lengthy exchange, his voice rising.

Hichens described the encounter as “pretty intimidating,” and said he sensed an element of “entitlement” in Biden’s responses. “He seems to think that he’s done all the right things, [so] why are all these young people asking me hard questions?” Hichens said.

Mariyah Jahangiri ‘20, who volunteers for the Warren campaign, also confronted Biden. She said her support for Warren had nothing to do with why she decided to attend the town hall.

Jahangiri asked Biden how he was planning “to reverse the impacts of the 1994 crime bill,” which she said, “caused mass incarceration.”

Biden responded to Jahangiri by telling her that at the time the bill passed, every “major black mayor and mayor in the country said we had to respond” to rising rates of violent crime.

“That’s not true,” Jahangiri said.

“Kiddo, where do you go to school?” Biden then asked.

The 1994 bill, which Biden was a key supporter of, was one of many “tough-on-crime” bills enacted during the 80s and 90s. That wave of legislation led to increased incarceration and disproportionately affected minority communities.

A New York Times article on Biden’s support for the crime bill notes that African American mayors in Baltimore, Atlanta, Denver, Cleveland and Detroit supported the bill. Other leaders of the African American community, such as Jesse Jackson, were bitterly opposed.

Jahangiri told The S&B she wasn’t surprised Biden used “patronizing” language.

“It’s clear he doesn’t know how to interact with young women, … young women of color especially,” she said.

Despite Biden’s previous apologies for his role in the passage of the 1994 bill and others like it—as well as his support for criminal justice reform—Jahangiri said he needed to go further. She also argued that policies like these reflect poorly on his character.

“I think it’s interesting that people disassociate people’s politics [from] their personhood so much. I think it’s not detached,” Jahangiri said.

Still, others expressed a belief that Biden was, in the end, “a good person.”

“I think that he’s a good person,” Hichens said. “I think that he believes that he’s a good person. And I don’t think that he believes that any of the real, substantive things that he’s done were wrong.”

“I think he’s a fine person,” agreed Echikson. “Even if you disagree with someone, it doesn’t make them evil.”


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