Maybe Joe Biden Is Getting It More Right Than We Expected
At his first rally, the former Vice President broadly outlines how he intends to beat Trump. Trump responds.
What Biden doesn’t mention is how he intends to beat all the other Democratic candidates also vying for nomination. In fact he doesn’t mention them at all. (So maybe that’s how.)
Biden pulled a pretty decent crowd in Pittsburgh; though nowhere close to a Trump rally, and not hard for him to do, because he’s always been popular with unions, and that’s who many of the participants represented. In fact, the event was kind of semi-officially sponsored by the International Association of Fire Fighters,(which is a labor union representing fire fighters in the U.S. and Canada; they’ve already endorsed Biden).
But the big show did seem to get under Trump’s skin: the President spraying Tweets about ‘Sleepy Joe’ in sync with Biden’s rally. Mostly to insist while “Dues Sucking” union leaders may be with Biden, “the membership wants me”. Punctuating it all with a “WIN!” And he may be right about that. That pretty much certainly was the case in 2016.
Biden does seem to have an encouragingly exemplary talent for raising Trump’s hackles. When Biden launched his campaign last week, and gave his reason for deciding to run as a response to Trump’s “very fine people on both sides” depiction of Charlottesville, Trump felt the need to immediately punch back on that as well, saying:
“And if you look at what I said, you will see that that question was answered perfectly. And I was talking about people that went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general. Whether you like it or not, he was one of the great generals. I have spoken to many generals here, right at the White House, and many people thought — of the generals, they think that he was maybe their favorite general. People were there protesting the taking down of the monument of Robert E. Lee. Everybody knows that.”
Which only made the President look worse. Because of course, that’s not who Trump was obviously talking about. So Trump only dug a deeper hole for himself with his newest equivocation. Biden made that possible.
We’d wondered aloud whether bringing up Trump’s response to Charlottesville was really the best way to launch a Presidential campaign (so did others), but it looks like it was. And Biden continues along this path, opening his speech discussing the weekend shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California, saying it’s yet another horrible reminder that “we are in a battle for America’s soul”.
Biden so far is talking almost exclusively about that “soul” and American values, and very little about specific policies. At the rally, Biden asked the crowd: “There’s a $2-trillion tax cut last year, did you feel it? Did you get anything from it?”, which sounded very much like President Reagan’s “Are you better off than you were four years ago”? Except with the shoe on the other foot.
In some ways though, this argument can be seen as a sign of weakness, because it’s one of the only ways available to Democrats to challenge Trump on his booming economy. But if it works, it’d turn the tables on Trump, who got elected promising to protect the working man. If Biden’s blows land, Trump could now be seen as protecting only the wealthiest of the wealthy. (Of course, Bernie Sanders has and continues to have a lot of success treading this same ground).
So Biden has shown some openings in the early stages of his campaign, by painting in broad strokes about the plight and nobility of people of the shrinking middle class, which has kind of been exclusively Trump’s turf, as Democrats took a more policy-driven and high-road approach. Hillary Clinton’s campaign was a lot about policy-making ability and experience, but that part of it got very little coverage and/or attracted very little interest. Although Elizabeth Warren’s website is surprisingly devoid of specifics, her campaign’s been chock full of very specific (and some very smart) policy proposals. But impact so far? Not much. Coverage of her proposals? Next to none. People don’t have the patience to focus on that kind of thing anymore. If they ever did.
Obviously, Biden’s initial salvo is not enough to guarantee he’ll be carried to victory, but it does seem a wiser place to start out, turns out, than many of his many competitors. We’re not sold yet, but he’s gone up a couple of rungs in our estimation in the past week.
Still, Biden faces challenges of his own making, most immediately (and perhaps most indelibly) his mishandling (which is probably not strong enough a word), of the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, when Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexually harassing her.
The most compelling recounting of this ugly episode in American politics that we’ve seen appeared this weekend in the New Yorker, authored by Jane Mayer. And it’s well worth a read. (We love Jane Mayer: her book, “Dark Money” is a masterpiece, and explains so well so much of what’s going on in politics in this country these days.)
Mayer’s story is pretty balanced, or as balanced as it can be, given that Biden really, actively messed this confirmation process up. Though she dutifully points out that Biden ultimately voted against Thomas’ appointment to the Court.
We also wonder how much impact Biden’s behavior then (however unforgivable it may be) will ultimately have if he does manage to secure the Democratic nomination. After all, he’d be up against Trump who doesn’t exactly score points with the #metoo movement. Sure, it’d probably mean Biden would enter as a weakened candidate, but that’s why incumbents always have the advantage, because they don’t have to face a field of competitors trying to tear them down in the service of their own political aspirations. And also because they may deserve it.
Where we do have an issue with Mayer’s story, is the last paragraph, which seems awkwardly tacked on. As if to affirm her purpose in writing about Biden in such great detail is not for the sole purpose of attacking Biden (which a lot of people unabashedly are). She concludes by saying:
“Understandably, Biden will be questioned about his conduct as he runs for President this year. If he’s smart, he will come up with better answers. But as that plays out, the Republicans who eviscerated Hill and confirmed Thomas, several of whom still serve in the Senate, as well as those who confirmed Kavanaugh under similar circumstances, have even more to answer for.”
But no. Not true. For the simple fact that none of them are Democrats asking you to vote for them for President.
Biden, just in general, has a history of putting his foot in his mouth and making major gaffes about all kinds of things. It’s hurt him before, and will again, and Trump will be all over him, unceasingly. Then again, Trump is prone to this too (although it seems to impact him less).
And Biden may be on to something when he defines the 2020 election as a battle for “America’s Soul”. Trump says he has many “really great” policy ideas, like on health care — except he won’t reveal it until after the next election. Which begs the question: if he really does have such a great plan, why not introduce it now and let Democrats hack at it to their detriment?
No, Trump’s whole routine is much more about abandonment of policy. Deregulation of virtually everything, killing Obamacare, weakening NATO, taking money away from public schools, backing out of climate and nuclear agreements, and shutting down the border, all having to do with putting an end to long-standing policies, with little or nothing to replace them but isolationism, annihilation, and hate.
So ultimately, question may be: if Trump’s the “Night King”, is Biden really the best “Arya”?