Sunday, October 8, 2017

Joe Biden Explained

There's a Hurricane headed towards the Gulf Coast, the President is making not-so-veiled threats towards North Korea, and it looks like the next season of American Horror Story could be based on real life and set in Hollywood.

Also the Twins made the playoffs! And were then promptly bulldozed by the Yankees.

So let's talked about something that's not about Trump or baseball.

Recently political scientist Scott Lemieux said on Twitter: "I kind of want Biden to run in '20, just to end the ridiculous fantasy that he wasn't the nominee because Hillary CLEARED THE FIELD" And  my immediate response was along the lines of "But I like Biden, he's a good guy in a lot of ways, and I don't want to see him humiliated...But yeah Lemieux is right about 'Biden Would Have Won' takes."

Let me just say up front that I love Joe Biden in many ways. I love his his ridiculous "Joe Diamond Six-Pack" caricature in popular media. I love his "ladies and gentlemen" line when he wants to emphasize his point. I love the ridiculous anecdotes about him that are apparently all true from Richard Ben Cramer's masterwork "What It Takes" about the men (yeah they were all men) who ran for president in the 1988 cycle.

For example, there was a night called "The Night of The Bronco." This was the night when Biden drove some of his most important staff around all night, in his Bronco in the mid-80s to look at possible houses to buy (Biden is a guy with strong opinions about houses being over or undervalue in the Delaware market in the 80's), and yeah...oh tell them he was going to run for president.

Buy this book. It's just so good.

I also love Biden's successes, most Millennials don't know this but he was instrumental in keep Robert Bork off of the Supreme Court (full argument on why Bork was bad here!) 

And I stand in awe of the most terrible moments of darkness in Joe Biden's life. Such as the horrible car crash that killed his first wife Neilia (nee Hunter) and his one year old daughter Naomi Christina and severely injured his sons Hunter and Beau. Neilia went out to do Christmas shopping with the family when a semi T-boned their station wagon.

According to Cramer, and as far I can tell Biden has never disagreed with this, after the accident (note the use of periods are Cramer's own) this was where he was:
The hospital was in a tough neighborhood, bad streets, and dark. If the boys could sleep, Joe and Jimmy [his brother] would walk those streets, half the night. They'd tell the nurse they were going out for pizza . . . but they wouldn't eat.

They didn't even talk. The sound was their shoes on grit, on broken glass,  . . . Joe was hoping someone would jump out from an alley, come at him. He would've killed the guy. He was looking for a fight. There was no place for his rage.

Sometimes he though it would be easier . . . if he were the only one left . . . then he could kill himself. It was the boys, kept him alive.
Note this happened a month or so after he shocked much of the political world in 1972 by winning a Senate election as a obscure, but charismatic, county commissioner with a hansom young family in tow against an incumbent named J. Caleb Boggs who'd been in Delaware politics since time immemorial.

So yeah I like Biden the guy, and thought he was a pretty good Vice President.

But he's almost certainly not going to be the 2020 Democratic nominee. Nor would he have "won" in 2016 either. Lemieux, who describes himself as a Biden fan, wrote it this way when it came to Biden's previous very real runs for the nomination:
In 1988, Biden was forced to drop out of the race amid a plagiarism scandal. This race was ultimately won by noted superstar political talent Michael Dukakis, who really did run the inept and underachieving campaign Clinton is accused of running. In 2008, when Clinton barely lost to arguably the foremost political talent the Democratic Party has produced in a half-century, Biden ran a bungling, ineffectual campaign that ended in Iowa with zero delegates.
Lemieux is...well...not being that unfair.

And that's not to mention the reality, summed up well by Jamelle Bouie, that lots of black people and younger liberal type people might have found real reasons to object to a President Biden in 2016 due to his work in the Senate. But because Biden really didn't run (at least formally) in the 2016 cycle, because his son was well dying of brain cancer among other reasons, the argument remains theoretical.

The point here is that the "Unsinkable Biden" dream I've heard from people about how he was sure to win in 2016 (or somehow will crush Trump in 2020) only makes sense in the abstract dreamland of a political reality where Biden never actually do the things that "running for president" actually entails.

Lemieux makes the point in his piece that "Joe Biden The Invincible Candidate Of Destiny" arguments are a way of eliding around a major issue about "Hillary Clinton Most Terrible Candidate In History" arguments we are all so used to:
If I may state the obvious, there is zero chance that a woman with that track record would be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. If the answer is that she would if she were vice president, the odds that a woman with Biden’s track record would be nominated as vice president are also roughly 0%.

It’s also not a coincidence that Clinton is treated with far more vituperation on the left than Biden is. Biden is very similar to Clinton — if anything historically a few clicks to the right. But can you imagine, say, Doug Henwood publishing His Turn: Biden Targets the Presidency if Clinton had announced she wasn’t running? And can you imagine a book title implying that it’s somehow unusual and unseemly for a male politician to seek power.
To paraphrase another political scientist I deeply respect but won't name, "'If only Hillary had been a likeable white dude with a lunch bucket in one hand and a Miller Lite in the other she would have a stupid fucking argument!"

Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 presidential election for a number of reason. The Electoral College is one. The political media's decision to cover emails servers more than all other policy issues combined is another. The phenomenon of what I like to call "White Rural Rage" in my Great Lakes States neck of the woods was too.

But Biden wasn't the panacea to this. And he was never a magician who could pull the presidential rabbit out of the hat, as his past campaigns for that job illustrate. As a candidate for the presidency in 2016 he would have probably run into many of the same problems Hillary did, and some more as well.

People who want to be serious about what happened in 2016, or what Democrats should think about when it comes to 2020, should acknowledge this reality.

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