Living in Society

Biden 3.0

Vice President Joe Biden in the Rope Line in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, May 19, 2010

As a registered Democrat with substantial political experience, former Vice President Joe Biden is welcome to run for president. The question in my precinct is whether he can find enough supporters to achieve viability in the February 2020 precinct caucuses.

In 2008, Biden was not viable on his own, or when his supporters formed a coalition with Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson supporters. He dropped out of the race in January.

During that cycle, we had ample opportunity to meet members of the Biden clan.

I met Jill Biden in nearby Solon during a 2007 non-partisan, multiple candidate event held by the Solon Senior Advocates. She was campaigning for her husband. I met Beau Biden at Old Brick in Iowa City that cycle after he gave a speech. I finally met Joe in Cedar Rapids while he was serving as vice president after a 2010 campaign event for Chet Culver. Joe Biden stayed long after his speech and shook hands with anyone who cared to. His campaigns seemed about what is referred to as the “Biden clan.” Appearances in person, or through a surrogate, were part of the same energy. If you supported him, you became part of that energy, a de facto member of the Biden clan. Some viewed that as a positive.

I recently read Jill Biden’s memoir, Where the Light Enters: Building a Family, Discovering Myself, which effectively lays out the meaning of the Biden clan. I didn’t know what to expect when I bought the book, just that I found her personable when I met her. What I found is a well-crafted narrative of a type of American family that when I was younger, I wanted to be part of. That type of family is now fading from our collective imagination. With Biden 3.0 the same energies emanate from their home in Delaware. They don’t seem that spell-binding today.

Evaluating Biden 3.0 involves specific queries.

Do you believe Joe Biden is a fake politician or is he genuine?

When I worked in transportation my supervisor was an active Republican who unexpectedly criticized Biden for his hair transplants. “He’s fake,” he said to me on several occasions, referring to the hair plugs and Biden’s vanity for getting them. That seemed a superficial analysis, even though he had encountered Biden at an airport and confirmed up close the hair looked bad. When I met Biden, I didn’t look at his hairline, but felt the warm handshake and attention he gave me. That’s similar to what other Democrats have mentioned when talking about Biden. I know few Democrats who doubt the genuine nature of Joe Biden’s personality. Nonetheless, it’s a question to answer. He’s the real deal.

Is Biden in it to win it?

On his third attempt to win the Democratic nomination for president, at age 76, life is too short to enter the race to make a point. There is no doubt Biden wants to win. National media reported on Biden clan deliberations about the 2020 opportunity. When he announced, national media gave him good coverage. Because of his near-universal name recognition among Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers, he is running a different type of campaign. Yesterday the Washington Post ran an article titled, “Joe Biden’s campaign of limited exposure: How long can he keep it up?” They summarized the campaign strategy as follows,

With near universal name recognition and high favorability ratings among Democrats, the former vice president does not need to introduce himself to voters like nearly every other candidate. And as the leader in early polls, he can attract media attention without splashy events.

Focused on fundraising instead of early state local events, Biden can appear above the fray. He’s been criticized for this approach, but if the focus is to win, it may be a solid strategy — maybe good enough to see him through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, and if he wins there, through Super Tuesday.

What about Biden’s record in the U.S. Senate?

People criticize Biden’s work as Senate Judiciary Committee chair during President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of Clarence Thomas as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The criticism is specifically of Biden’s handling of Anita Hill’s testimony. Such criticism seems justified from a 2019 perspective. What is forgotten is Biden was judiciary chair during President Ronald Reagan’s nomination of Robert Bork as an associate justice. The Bork nomination became famous for Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy’s floor speech within 45 minutes of the nomination, in which he said,

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, and schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.

Biden did an effective job shepherding rejection of that nomination and should get appropriate credit. As much as the Bork nomination and Kennedy’s speech reflects our politics in 2019, I believe voters and caucus-goers must take Biden’s entire political history into consideration, including his vote for the Iraq War.

Is Joe Biden the same person who stepped on the stage with Barack Obama in Chicago’s Grant Park on Nov. 7, 2008 in front of an estimated million people?

I don’t know. I hope not. He’s gotten older, has eight years of the Obama administration on his resume, and hasn’t spent much time in his third campaign to be president defining policy. He stands out in Iowa for those things.

He hasn’t been a part of the campaign grind we see played out in local media hardly at all. While Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and others have 50 or more organizers on the ground in Iowa, Biden 3.0 appears to be banking on his prior work to gain him the viability he couldn’t find in 2008.

It is fair to ask the question Jill Filipovic did in a May 17 New York Times op-ed, “Does anyone actually want Joe Biden to be President?” It is equally fair to feel badly about asking it after coming into contact with the Biden clan’s energy over so many years.

I like Joe Biden. I don’t like him for president. If he’s nominated, I’ll support him, like I would any of the 24 potential nominees. That’s a feeling many in my political circle of friends have expressed. It will override the tit for tat niggling over candidates when it comes to the general election. At least I hope it does.