Posts Tagged ‘Biden’

The Right-Enough Candidate

March 4, 2020

I’m feeling amazingly perky after Joe Biden’s miraculous resurrection, with the seeming likelihood that he will beat Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination. I say “amazingly” because less than a week ago I wrote a friend that “I’d like to vote for Biden because I think he’s a decent man,  but every time I see him in a debate I think, no way.”

At the beginning of the campaign I was mildly favorable to Joe, seeing him as the exact opposite of Trump. But on the debate stage he sometimes flailed like a drowning man grasping for a coherent sentence to pull him out of the flood. It particularly stood out next to the other candidates, who were a remarkably articulate bunch. (Can you spell Buttigieg?) I flirted with Mayor Pete (but thought he was just too young and inexperienced), Amy (I wanted to like her, but she absolutely lacked charisma), Corey (I still like him, but he dropped out early), Elizabeth (who is smart and capable and chipper, but makes too many policy choices that I think are wrong).

All along I was wishing for somebody to jump out of the pack. Nobody did. They were all impressively good but nobody was perfect. Nobody could grab our attention and hold it. Nobody could pull the bulk of the party behind them.

Then, in a week, Joe Biden jumped out of the pack. What happened? He did not become perfect. But somehow the crowd saw, with vivid clarity, that it was either him or Sanders.  We wanted to believe in Joe, so we did. It’s a little like accepting the guy you aren’t crazy in love with but who is a good man and a reliable provider. Once you make up your mind, everything feels better.

Joe isn’t the candidate we dreamed of, but he is, certainly, somebody we know. He’s right enough, as Ross Douthat put it in his column today. He’s a realist who would rein in extremes, but he’s a pragmatist who would want to get something done. Could he? That might depend on the fate of the Senate more than on his legislative skills. He’s broad-minded enough to bring in a talented cabinet (we’ve seen plenty of possibilities in the debates) so it wouldn’t all fall on him.

His most important quality, however, is normalcy. There’s a reason he’s called Uncle Joe. I could use a dose of normal. A big dose.



Thoughts on Joe Biden

May 21, 2019

I had a conversation with my son Chase that stimulated lots of thoughts about Joe Biden. Like a lot of people, I can’t help liking Biden. He’s a comfortable presence: decent, kind-hearted, slow to impute bad motives to his opponents. All that sounds extremely attractive in our current political environment, dominated by a president who is none of those things.

Chase, however, told me that he and his peers at his office—a highly multi-cultural, progressive place—are very down on Biden. He used the word “disgust,” which is pretty strong language for someone as careful as Chase. When I asked him to explain, he cited Biden’s history of being on the wrong side of issues—school integration, the Iraq war, treatment of women. If I got him correctly, though, much of the feeling was based on a pent-up sense that he doesn’t want to go back to the way things were before Trump. He wants to see change—economically, racially, ecologically, educationally—that requires a major overhaul of society. Yes, he and his peers want to defeat Trump, and they could happily vote for most of the Democratic candidates against Trump. But Biden, he thought, might be an exception. At least they would be quite unenthusiastic if he were the Democratic candidate. To them he represents the past.

Reading opinion blogs in the last few weeks has suggested that Chase’s point of view is shared by many. One column in the New York Times was premised on the idea that nobody was really for Biden, but he was leading in the polls only because people consider him “electable.”

Here are my thoughts:

First, I think these opinions underestimate the appeal of decency. We know Biden in a way we don’t (yet) know any of the other candidates. What people my age know is that Biden is a decent man, who would seek to bring Americans together. He’s the opposite of strident. That’s a powerful appeal. We’ve been shredded in the last few years, and the longing for a leader we like and trust is powerful. Character is definitely going to be on the ballot, and it’s not just a matter of denouncing our current president. You have to have something demonstrably better to offer.

Second, as an old guy myself I can say that nobody can be in public life as long as Biden without making choices that now, in the light of history, seem terrible. I would not like to defend everything I have thought, said and done in my life! Of course, each candidate’s history must be scrutinized. However, I am more interested in the question of where the candidate will take us than the question of where they have been. The latter is only important as it speaks to the former. I don’t want to press the ideological outrage button too many times about things that were done decades ago. I know too well that times change.

Third, it’s important to realize that changing America for the better will require political leadership that embraces all of America and can bring at least 51% along. Biden’s potential is that he can bring other people along, especially those who aren’t quite sure they like the idea of change.

So I recommend: listen very closely to what Biden says in the months ahead about where he believes we ought to go. Avoid playing “gotcha” about his past, and instead ask yourself whether he really is content with the ante-Trump status quo or has energy and commitment to give to change. I’m not sure what the answer is. But if I become convinced that he is not just checking that “change” box for the sake of appeasing progressives, if I come to believe that he truly is committed to dramatic transformations, then I’m going to be much more positive toward him.