Joe Biden: the image and the reality

Published 8:13 pm Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Biden should not be the Democrats’ pick to face Trump in 2020



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Contributing columnist

Biden’s primary campaign invites us to see our pre-2016 nation through a rosy gauze—as a society whose fundamentals were good and whose forward progress under Barack Obama has been hijacked by the black-swan presidency of Donald Trump. He promises to take us back to the future, to restore our lost normalcy and decency. He is the establishment’s antidote to Bernie Sanders’ message that something is radically wrong, that we’ve become a plutocracy dominated by rich investors and large corporations bent on capturing ever larger shares of our national income.

Biden blandly assures us that Congress will recover once Trump is gone and Republicans are free to be responsible legislators again: “Not a joke. You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends.” Never mind their constant obstruction of Obama’s every initiative. Never mind that they have prostituted themselves to the whims of a psychopathic president. We’re all Americans, after all, including the über-wealthy ruling class the GOP is so proud to serve. As Biden recently explained, “”I love Bernie, but I’m not Bernie Sanders. I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.”

Biden repeatedly wraps himself in the mantle of Obama. It’s an effective tactic. The loathing Democrats feel for Trump fuels a reverent, almost adoring memory of Obama. Trump regularly criticizes Obama in public, and takes an obvious satisfaction in undoing his legacy. This makes Obama into a powerful totem for the Democratic tribe. Criticism of the eight-year record of the Obama-Biden administration seems like betrayal and desecration.

After 21/years of Trump, most Democrats would jump at the chance to re-elect Obama if he could have a third term. Biden is presenting himself as the next best thing. He wants the electability of Obama to rub off on him, hoping we forget that he has lost in two previous presidential primaries and that he totally lacks Obama’s rock-star charisma. What he offers instead is the affability of “Uncle Joe,” the sometimes goofy and incoherent fellow with the empathetic smile who makes people want to trust him as he schmoozes through a crowd.

However, he is sometimes rather creepy in the way he gets physically up close and personal in public encounters with girls and women. You can see him in action in some photos and videos at, especially in the excerpt from Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (2/24/15). If he is nominated, I expect the GOP will make sure we see a lot of this material during the 2020 campaign. It isn’t nearly as bad as the behavior Trump has boasted about, but it could make some voters wish for more of an improvement over our current Groper-in-Chief.

In stark contrast to the eloquence and clarity of Obama, Biden has a long history of gaffes. Some of them are just brief memory fails such asrecalling how as vice president he met with students from Parkland, even though the massacre happened two years after his term ended. Some are just verbal slips like “We choose truth over facts” (instead of “truth over lies). But others range from tone-deafness to insensitivity. For instance, in 1975 he had this to say about the lasting effects of slavery: “I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation, and I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago.”

In the latest debate, Biden was asked about this statement. His jumbled response began with a couple of relevant items such as bank redlining and inadequate education spending, and then degenerated into condescending remarks about social workers teaching parenting skills. He ended by urging these parents to “Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words.” Presumably this would make up for their children’s deficient linguistic skills.

I am baffled by polls suggesting that so many Democratic voters think Biden has the personal and mental skills to lead the charge against Trump and the GOP in 2020. We know from past experience that Republicans will go low, dishonest and brutal in their attacks. The Democratic nominee will need to be energetic, fluent and able to respond quickly and wisely. Does that sound like Uncle Joe, the handsy schmoozer with the record player?

Biden’s enthusiastic support for the invasion of Iraq should make him widely unacceptable to today’s Democratic Party.  In October of 2002 then Senator Biden voted for the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq, which Bush used as justification for the March, 2003 invasion. In a Sept. 3, 2019 NPR interview Biden claimed that he didn’t want war and his vote was based on a personal assurance from Bush that he wouldn’t go to war and needed the resolution only to pressure Saddam into allowing inspectors back into Iraq.

Then, Biden said “He [Bush] got them in, and before we know it, we had a shock and awe [the invasion]. Immediately, the moment it started, I came out against the war at that moment.” That was a lie. He did not immediately turn against the war. At a Brookings Institutioninterview four months after the invasion, he said: “”Nine months ago, I voted with my colleagues to give the president of the United States of America the authority to use force, and I would vote that way again today.”

One of the few nearly true claims made by Donald Trump is that invading Iraq was “the biggest single mistake made in the history of our country.” Vietnam was a worse mistake, but it wasn’t single; there was a series of decisions by four presidents. Biden’s support for the Iraq invasion calls into serious question his judgment on military policy, and his dishonesty about that support is one more reason not to trust him.