Earlier this month, the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson posted a web column entitled Why Joe Biden Should Run (referenced briefly in my June 15 blog). Davidson makes a compelling case and my reaction is: Biden indeed, why not? I watched Hillary Clinton’s Roosevelt Island campaign debut. Lot’s of good lines clearly aimed at a different time than when Bill first ran in 1992. Centrist “New Democrat” talk doesn’t cut it with today’s activist and frustrated Democrats. But as Frank Rich pointed out in a NY Magazine commentary, “her leftward tilt is mostly pandering” One can only hope that’s not the case, but at this juncture it’s certainly hard to say for sure that her new populism is more than rhetorical. As I’ve written before, her message on income inequality with its implied critique of the 1% seems out of sync with the Clinton clan’s mega speechmaking fees, recently minted fortune and lifestyle. She certainly is aware of the problem as reflected in the NY Times report that the they are agonizing about the optics of an August holiday in the pricy Hamptons.
Joe Biden is no youngster and he has just suffered a terrible personal blow in the loss of his promising and beloved son Beau. But there are many reasons why Biden may be exactly the right person. Populism doesn’t ring false out of the mouth of a man who all these years in — and unlike many of his colleagues — remains a person of modest financial means. No one could or would question his feel for the middle class or for those who can’t even cross over that relatively low economic bar. In a time of posturing and opportunistic grandstanding, Biden always seems true to his essential self, his inner core, and as a result true to us. He says what he thinks, sometimes refreshingly off script, and lacks the pretense and disingenuousness so often found in our political class of often-shallow cardboard figures. This is not to suggest that he is faultless or totally immune to the ways of our politicians, but somehow he stands out.
Few, if any, Americans are better prepared than the Vice President. He came to his present office with a deep knowledge of foreign and domestic affairs. He has long been skeptical of our interventionism, something that has probably deepened in recent years. If reports are correct, he has been a constant voice of moderation. While chairing the Foreign Relations Committee, he advocated splitting Iraq into a federation of three more natural interdependent states. While dismissed at the time, its an idea that seems more compelling all the time. He has been at Obama’s side as a full partner in shepherding our economy back to its present health. Decades in the Senate, including a stint chairing Judiciary, exposed him to every domestic problem that we have or have had over the years. He has often been the president’s point man whether in dealing with the Iraqi government or with individual situations at home. Without question Hillary Clinton has an impressive resume; Joe Biden’s is if anything deeper and broader.
All of which makes him an interesting choice, but it’s not the most compelling reason to think he might be a strong candidate and an excellent president. Biden has an honesty and integrity that makes you feel he’s a person you can trust. At a time when most Americans look at their leaders with mistrust, that’s an important attribute. Republicans talk “family values”; Biden lives them. Just take a look at Beau Biden’s funeral service, especially the family dynamics, and you’ll see what I mean. Biden lacks the soaring oratory of Barack Obama, but then so does Hillary and so do all of the other contenders in both parties. And Obama has his weaknesses — he’s better before large audiences than in intimate settings and, as Davidson points out, Biden can be a very effective debater.
Davidson’s case notwithstanding, the real question is not why Biden should run but rather will he? My guess is that he won’t, and that’s really too bad. The reasons are obvious. Joining the race would put Obama in a very conflicted position. Despite the heat of the ’08 campaign, Hillary agreed to join the president’s team and her husband became one of his most effective “explainers” or policy. Also, the president having broken the “color’ barrier, must feel some obligation to helping break the glass ceiling. It’s the latter that may ultimately make me, regardless of my reservations, an enthusiastic Hillary supporter. So we know why Biden won’t run, or isn’t running right now, but in fact we desperately need a viable alternative to the Clinton candidacy. A Biden race would give Democrats a real choice and a challenge would test Hillary’s metal. Unlike Sanders and company, Biden has universal name recognition and probably a very broad following.
In an email a few days ago, one of the most astute commentators I know wrote me, “I also worry that the Democrats have no Plan B should things go wrong.” Ah, Plan B. And that is really the most compelling reason for Joe to run. At this point we still have virtually all our eggs in one basket and that’s plain scary. Biden wouldn’t merely be a Plan B, he would make an excellent Plan A. That’s why he should consider entering the race. And isn’t that what Democrats and liberals are all about — the right to chose.