While former Vice President Joe Biden has developed a progressive platform in his bid for president, during his decades in the Senate his political style was not vociferous or overly confrontational about progressive issues.
Corporate directors who are interested in preparing for a Biden victory might want to look at his long track record as a lawmaker in his home state of business-friendly Delaware. The history and culture of this tiny state where Biden spent many of his most formative years are almost unparalleled in the United States and arguably leave a mark on Delawareans.
For starters, the state was dominated by a single, powerful industrial giant, the DuPont Co., which was the biggest private employer in the state for most of the 20th century. Since DuPont was, in effect, a family business dating to 1802, the culture imparted to employees was one of civility, discretion and the importance of education.
Delaware is also a place where politicians and business executives of all stripes prided themselves on working cooperatively for the good of the state. It was the place where the head of DuPont, who had railed against high taxes for years, kicked back at a black-tie dinner with the late President John F. Kennedy as if they were old school chums.
It was a style that came to be called “The Delaware Way.” For instance, when Biden took the Senate seat in 1972 from Republican, J. Caleb Boggs, Biden said, “It’s a lot less joyous than I expected. I think of him and how he must feel after 26 years of faithful service,” according to Celia Cohen in her book Only in Delaware.
Besides DuPont, Delaware’s other calling card is as a welcoming home for corporations and other business entities. Today, 67.8% of all Fortune 500 companies are incorporated in the state. What’s more, 89% of all U.S.-based initial public offerings in 2019 chose Delaware as their corporate home. While Delaware has worked assiduously for decades to guard this golden goose with frequent tweaks to its corporate law, Biden, as a U.S. senator, was a powerful force in Washington protecting the lucrative corporate franchise from outside attack.
Thanks to Delaware’s clubby business and political culture, the state passed favorable banking laws in the early 1980s that created a financial services industry almost overnight, bringing some of the largest credit card banks to the state. Biden’s son Hunter had worked for MBNA America Bank, which was one of the country’s largest credit card banks in the country.
Biden became one of few Democrats who strongly supported the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, legislation that made it much harder for consumers to discharge debt, including medical bills. It was something the credit card companies had pushed hard for.
Some critics of the credit card industry reproached Biden for supporting the bill, saying unfair lending practices by credit card companies were wringing Americans dry. Former President Barack Obama, then a senator, voted against the bill.
Kurt Landgraf, former CEO of DuPont Merck Pharmaceutical Co. in Wilmington, Del., and current board member for Corning Inc. and Louisiana-Pacific Corporation, has known Biden for 40 years. If Biden is elected, economic policies on tax will be very different, he says, “but worth it.”
Landgraf, a self-described “big Biden supporter,” says the general hope among directors he knows is that Biden will bring a return to stability, opportunity and a restoration of America’s place in the world order.
Biden promises to “mobilize American manufacturing and innovation to ensure that the future is made in America,” according to his campaign material. He adds, “We’ve seen the importance of bringing home critical supply chains so that we aren’t dependent on other countries in future crises.”
Advisers say he will bring steadiness and certainty to the nation, characteristics that business depends on. “My take is most people I know on my boards recognize [the country] can’t take more Trump,” Landgraf says.
For others, a Biden win is a less-than-desirable scenario. A May survey of the Texas oil and natural gas industry by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs found that 76% of respondents with the Texas Oil and Gas Association trade group reported they possessed a great deal or a good deal of concern about the threat to their company’s economic wellbeing after a Biden victory. The concern about a Biden win was slightly greater than their concern about oversupply of oil and natural gas.
“While no one expected [President Donald] Trump to win in 2016 and while anything can still happen, it’s extremely hard at this point to devise a scenario where Trump wins,” says Bradley Tusk, founder and CEO of Tusk Holdings and campaign manager for former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “We know that Trump’s entire reelection argument was based on the economy and that’s gone. … If I were a corporate officer, I’d assume Biden is going to win and prepare for that.”