Is it the guy who wrote an influential federal crime bill that encouraged states towards mass incarceration for drug offenses?

Or is it the guy who ran a police department that was such a notorious rights-violating dumpster fire that the Obama DOJ hide to ride herd on it?

Such are the choices Democrats will have next year.

Familiarize yourself with this dispute now, as the Booker/Biden clash is likely to be the highlight of night two of the next Dem debate to be held a week from now. Spartacus is a desperate man, fearing that he’s slipped to third in line for black voters behind Biden and Kamala Harris. He needs to make a splash next week, ideally on racial grounds, in order to place himself in contention for those votes. Hence his repeated focus on Biden’s racial sins over the past few months, first dinging him for his cordiality towards segregationist colleagues in the Senate, then taking Harris’s side in her busing dispute with Biden (which of course was itself a play for black votes from Harris by questioning Biden’s commitment to equal treatment), and now hitting Biden hard over his new criminal justice reform plan. Uncle Joe’s trying to very belatedly clean up the political mess created by the crime bill he championed in the mid 90s knowing that it might become a real liability for him as Booker and Harris dig in on it. So he’s a kinder, gentler Joe now — no more mandatory minimum sentences, no more sentencing disparities for “black drugs” like crack, no more death penalty.

Good enough for Cory Booker? Of course not:

“Joe Biden had more than 40 years to get this right,” Mr. Booker said in a statement. “The proud architect of a failed system is not the right person to fix it. The 1994 crime bill accelerated mass incarceration and inflicted immeasurable harm on black, brown and low-income communities. While it’s encouraging to see Vice President Biden finally come around to supporting many of the ideas I and others have proposed, his plan falls short of the transformative change our broken criminal justice system needs.”

He reiterated the point at a NAACP event today. You can’t be Mr. Tough On Crime for 40 years in the Senate and then fart out a reform plan the moment you need to win a progressive beauty contest, said Booker:

Your move, Joe. And Joe *does* have a move ready for this. Team Booker has been telegraphing for days that they’re coming after Biden at the next debate so Team Biden has had time to prepare a response. How can someone who presided over Newark’s police department, the subject of this 2014 Justice Department report, presume to lecture me about mishandling the issue of crime, Biden said today?

Booker was mayor of Newark before becoming a senator, of course. And he provided Biden with at least one choice buck-stops-here quote about Newark PD that can and will be used against him next Wednesday:

Team Joe didn’t stop with Biden’s soundbite. They put out a statement this afternoon reminding Booker of his own sins in detail:

Tough call for black voters in South Carolina, then. “Three Strikes” Joe or “Civil Rights Nightmare” Cory?

Or former California top cop Kamala Harris, who’ll eventually need to answer for her own policies on drug offenses as state AG?

There’s always Pete Buttigieg — except he has a “black problem” back home in South Bend and is now being targeted by Black Lives Matter protesters over the recent police killing of a black resident.

Bernie Sanders must be watching all of this and wondering what the hell he needs to do to get black Democrats excited about him when their other options are this thin.

Anyway, although it’s fun to watch Biden swing at a very thirsty Cory Booker, his case doesn’t rest on proving that Booker is a civil rights nightmare. His defense to Booker’s and Harris’s attacks will boil down to this: The first black president looked at my record and deemed me fit to be his VP. If I was good enough for him, I should be good enough for you. Whether he retains his lead with black voters will depend on how persuasive, or not, that pitch is.