Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at a campaign event in Somersworth, N.H., February 5, 2020. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)
Joe Biden lost it again on the campaign trail at an auto plant being built in Detroit, and in a now familiar script.
His blowup had all his characteristic theatrics of prior such encounters. There were the shouting at blue-collar workers, the he-man, corn-pop-like braggadocio, the ad hominem expletives (“you’re full of s***!”), the invasion of one’s personal space with his habitual wagging finger, the personal invective (“horse’s a**”), and, of course, being wrong on the issues and accusations.
It certainly is reasonable to assume that, given Biden’s promise to put Beto O’Rourke (“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15”) in charge of a President Biden’s Second Amendment policies, a normal voter rightly could fear that Biden either wants, or would allow, bans on certain type of guns.
This latest incident joins lots of others, such as the Iowa one-on-one with an apparently portly male questioner: “You’re a damn liar, and that’s not true. . . . I’m not sedentary. You want to check my shape on, let’s do push-ups together, let’s run, let’s do whatever you want to do, let’s take an IQ test. . . . Look, fat . . .”
Or the brush-up with the young woman in New Hampshire: “You ever been to a caucus? No, you haven’t. You’re a lying, dog-faced pony soldier.”
We are told all this is baked into the Good Ol’ Joe from Scranton persona, and his supporters no more care than the MAGA audiences do when it comes to Trump’s tweets and disparaging epithets.
Perhaps. But Biden is being sold as the alternative to Bernie’s assumed Armageddon of the down-ticket Democratic Party on two counts: One, he is a nice guy, unlike the supposedly scowling Bernie or the crude Trump, and being 77 this year is no big deal given Bernie’s 78, Bloomberg’s 78, and Trump’s 73.
These incidents — and there will be lots more of them in the next eight months — after a while erode both those arguments.
Joe is not just folksy affable Joe, but rather a thin-skinned bully, as we know from his lies about the tragic circumstances of his first wife’s death, as well as the idea that his 77 is any way analogous to other septuagenarians in the race. Biden’s problem, then, is not that he is 77 per se, but that he is a different sort of 7o-something than Sanders at 78 or Trump at 73.
Many are perplexed over why the Democrats, after trashing Joe Biden for a year and often quite cruelly questioning his mental clarity, have now rallied around him. Aside from the obvious answer that their erstwhile liberator from a Sanders disaster, multibillionaire Michael Bloomberg, proved to be as unpalatable in person as he had seemed persuasive in the monied abstract, they now have no other alternative.
The party apparently just needs to get Joe somehow across the election finish line, by curtailing the number and length of his appearances, and adding novelty to the ticket by picking in advance some of his cabinet members who could fan out and act as surrogate campaigners.
Conspiracy theorists have added that Joe Biden will soon announce his VP choice, and it will be either a minority or female selection or both, and likely from the field of failed presidential candidates, thereby solving two problems at once: If Biden wins, his young energetic running mate will presumably be fast-tracked into the presidency in a manner that would not have been likely given that this person would never have been nominated much less elected; if Biden selects a “diversity candidate,” it’s apt to allay fears of a rudderless centrist administration. The Democratic vice-presidential selection this year is a way to square the circle of two old white finalists railing about the need for diversity and the tyranny of white privilege; it’s also a de facto nominee for president.
So the correct VP choice, when calibrated with Biden’s apparent inability to conduct a normal campaign and by wink and nod fulfill the duties of president, quells all the prior invective about Democratic hypocrisies of shunning five or six diverse young candidates for three old heterosexual white B-candidates: Bernie, Biden, and Bloomberg.
The problem is that we have never before witnessed a major party’s likely candidate who so early in the race seems unable to meet the grueling demands of the spring, summer, and fall campaign trail, much less the anticipated duties of president — especially from the party who insisted so loudly that Trump was non compos mentis that it apparently prompted the president to take the Montreal Cognitive Assessment screening test, which he aced, but which a current Joe Biden might well not be able to ace if similarly accused of being mentally unfit and removable via the 25th Amendment.
The closest electoral example to the present was FDR’s 1944 campaign, when his actual failing health was kept secret from the public and even bluntly lied about by his own doctors, who knew all along that Roosevelt was quite ill. All of which prompted a radical change in the Democratic ticket: It dropped the likely next president (the incumbent vice president but socialist Henry Wallace) and brought on the little-known but otherwise centrist Harry Truman, who was president less than three months after FDR’s inauguration. Democrats, past and present, can be socialists, but it is taboo to admit openly that they are socialists.
The Democrats may come to realize that a supposedly moderate but possibly addled candidate is not really good insurance against a Marxist who is hijacking their party, and so we should expect some wild gyrations and adaptations ahead in this already unpredictable and mostly depressing year.