It’s ironic that Joe Biden is both a vocal proponent of identity politics who has supported Affirmative Action and an old white guy running for president in a remarkably non-diverse field. He’s not just an old white guy but the; he’s the Old Man of Democratic party politics. He’s seen it all; from Nixon to the present his entire life has been in politics, and despite some horrendous personal setbacks he’s kept fighting for the causes he believes in.
So the natural question here isn’t so much Who is Joe Biden? but Why would anyone oppose him? I’ll do my best to answer both.
So who is Joe Biden?
One of the most experienced and effective legislators in Congress when tapped to serve as Vice President to Barack Obama, Biden has been intimately involved in every major policy decision made in this country for decades. He rode anti-Nixon sentiment into the Senate in 1972 and has represented the conservative wing of his party ever since.
His policies have changed over the years, as one might well expect; the country has changed, and it would be a rare politician who would refuse to change with it. Overall, he remains moderate on most issues; for example, he sensibly argues in favor of a codification of Roe v Wade to protect against it being overturned while acknowledging that it’s presently settled law. His proposals smack of practicality over idealism and realpolitik over protecting sacred cows.
This gives him excellent name recognition, a link to the revered Obama, and broad cross-party appeal. Which begs the question:
Why would anyone oppose him?
In the Not Fake News 2020 Scorecard, I describe him as a repeat loser, charisn’tmatic, very retired, with a reputation of senility, creepiness, or alcoholism. That last is unjust; Biden learned about the dangers of alcoholism by watching older family members and hasn’t touched a drop since. On the other hand, that just leaves senility and creepiness, which isn’t the best possible baggage for a politician to carry.
The creepiness factor has been exaggerated by the popular press, particularly parody site The Onion. Nevertheless, there’s some substance to it; starting with Lucy Flores in Nevada and going forward to embrace (awkwardly) a total of seven accusers, the consensus early last year was that Biden has no place in a modern presidential race. Somehow he seems to have escaped unscathed from the accusations, but in the age of the #MeToo Movement, Biden seems a peculiarly strange choice for the D.N.C.
With respect to senility — again, I’ve got to say it’s an overblown accusation. People point to his verbal lapses; Uncle Joe has always been a stutterer. They mention he sometimes seems to forget where he is; because of his stutter, Biden memorizes speeches. And he’s always been (in his words) “a gaffe machine”. In terms of policy and strategy, Joe Biden is as sharp as ever — which, incidentally, is pretty bright. He’s no genius and never pretended to be, but in his own arena (legislation and public policy) he’s very effective.
Much has been made of Biden’s son Hunter and the possibility of influence peddling. Despite a lot of recent press sympathetic to Hunter Biden, I’m not sold on Hunter being beyond reproach; he’s had his troubles and isn’t exactly well-known for good judgment. Perhaps his father should have stepped in… but Hunter’s his own man, and the bottom line is, Joe’s no more responsible for him than Jimmy Carter was for his brother Billy. And Joe Biden has always been known as honest — often foolish, frequently unpopular, but honest to a fault.
Except he hasn’t; not always. It’s gone without saying through this much of the campaign, but people are playing nice, and I think that’s a mistake. Joe Biden dropped out of the 1988 presidential race over plagiarism charges — which were disturbingly accurate. He’s got a long record of errors in this area. And, while he hasn’t done it recently, that’s hardly the point: Plagiarism is intellectual theft, and by 1988 he should have known better.
The bottom line on Biden is not a straightforward proposition. He’s certainly the most qualified candidate, and preliminary polls have him soundly defeating Trump in the general election. However, those are preliminary, and we all remember what the polls said about Clinton in 2016. Biden carries a ton of baggage and Trump (or his replacement) will certainly capitalize on it in the campaign.
We’re used to the Diamond Joe dichotomy on The Onion, and that’s contributed a lot to Biden’s invulnerability; people are accustomed to reading outrageous things about the man and then ignoring them. But I cannot imagine people will continue to offer him the benefit of the doubt in the face of the inevitably brutal attacks of a Donald Trump. A sufficiently charismatic politician could manage, but Hillary Clinton couldn’t — and, let’s face it: Uncle Joe is no Hillary Clinton, much less Saint Barack.
I love Joe Biden dearly. He’s that rarest of creatures, a good man in politics. But this race isn’t normal; Uncle Joe’s a good light welterweight hoping to battle a maddened sumo mud-wrestler for the title. I just don’t see it happening.