Current Affairs Politics

Joe Biden. The Right Candidate At The Wrong Time?

If the coronavirus crisis has shown us anything else, it’s that the issue of ageism and a lack of deep down concern for the elderly in broader society really is a problem. The numbers of people in various Western nations dismissing the pandemic on the dubious proposition that it poses the greatest risk to senior citizens – the “too bad” category as the Svengali of UK government, Dominic Cummings, might put it – and not the relatively young illustrates the selfish, short-term mind-set that seems to effect far too many men and women. Once you take away “sexy” tentpole issues like tackling catastrophic climate change or equal marriage rights and so on, a lot of the bread-and-butter politics that used to form the core tenets of the political Left seem to have shallow support at best among the more youthful sections of society. Even in this country, where older people fare far better in terms of public regard than many others, there has been a certain nonchalance in some quarters about the challenges that a significant proportion of our population will face in the coming weeks and months. And is facing right now. Thankfully attitudes are beginning to change and there seems to be a greater willingness by communities to “police” themselves through the individual and collective shaming of those flaunting the restrictions requested by the Government and HSE.

I say all this just to contextualise my views on the problem of the Joe Biden candidacy in the United States. While I am very wary of those who have taken to offering some type of pop-analysis of his cognitive health there does seem to be an issue there. One that his own campaign has recognised and is doing its best to hide. Though even that has been marked by the odd mix of incompetence and arrogance that has been the chief characteristic of his backroom team since the start of his bid to be the presidential nominee for the Democratic Party. None of this helps with Biden’s already shaky image as a figurehead establishment candidate, the status quo frontman who will return the US to the ante-Trump era of Beltway politics. Which is a shaky proposition at best given the decades-long degradation of the GOP through the influence of paleoconservatives, neoconservatives, the Tea Partyists, the Birthers, the Trumpists and alt-rightists. However much some in Washington and the American news media may wish it otherwise, the mythical golden age of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill is long gone and unlikely to return.

Joe Biden was the logical candidate for the Democrats in 2016, if Bernie Sanders proved too radical an option. That was his moment to shine. Unfortunately a combination of personal concerns and the machinations of the Hillary Clinton campaign ensured that the Delaware senator jumped before he was pushed, and the former Secretary of State was given “her turn” to be president. And we all know how that turned out.

21 comments on “Joe Biden. The Right Candidate At The Wrong Time?

  1. Honestly, I blame Bernie Sanders for the fact that Biden became the “only alternative: to Bernie Sanders”. It was manifestly obvious from the get-go that if Bernie Sanders had not sought the nomination (and indeed nominees who lost a prior nomination have a lower chance of getting elected historically) there would have been a reasonable chance that Warren, Bullock, O’Rourke, Booker, or Klobuchar would have gotten the nomination. However the nano-second Sanders threw his hat into the race it was going to be a choice between Sanders vs. Biden. That was just so obvious since late 2019, that I saw supporter of Warren, O’Rourke and Klobuchar curse, turn red in the face, burst into tears tear their hair and more when Bernie announced his candidacy. Well over half the Democrats I knew wanted to vote for somebody other than Biden or Sanders but felt they had no but to vote for Biden-many of them deeply, deeply disappointed. What could have been a very interested primary became an endgame between Sanders and Biden.

    Trust me the issues people had with Bernie Sanders were not simply that he was “too radical”. He’s actually very conservative for a Democrat on some US political process issues such as campaign finance, the filibuster, and electoral questions. It’s obvious to me that Sanders lacks the flexibility of mind that not only made Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt great Presidents, and but whose lack led James Buchanan to inadvertently egg on the factions that eventually started the Confederacy and had Woodrow Wilson be the President who got us into WW1 despite having started out very anti-war due to his childhood in The Confederacy.

    It’s a total myth that Sanders opponents are “conservative Democrats” who are terrified of socialism. In fact Sanders is not a socialist of any kind. He’s not a Trot. In my book he’s not a true progressive and doesn’t deserve to be considered a Democrat after he damaged Hilary Clinton’s campaign in 2016 after having lost. Everything in the man’s temperament and record in Congress points to a crappy ineffective President even if he did win. The only issues where he is actually “left” of Clinton or Biden involves his advocating programs that Bill Clinton and/or Obama had tried to implement but was not able to due to the inherent constraints on any American President and because some of them were up against serious practical barriers that went way beyond partisan politics or what any interest group wanted.

    As for the claim of Biden as “establishment”. There are some things worth unpacking about “establishment” and “outsider” labels. For one thing, there are a lot of inconsistencies and double standards in who gets labels like “establishment”, “maverick”, “outsider”, and so on. Personally, I don’t see those labels as worth much of anything in and of themselves.

    By outsider do you mean somebody intelligent and in some cases with a lot of relevant experience who just isn’t a party favorite? By outsider do you mean somebody who is one of those highly intelligent fast rising stars that come around every so often? Or does it mean a destructive who peddles bizarre conspiracy theories like Ross Perot or goes around insulting people like Trump? What are the metrics of “establishment”? Does having a lot of experience make you establishment all by itself? Why are women more readily judged as “establishment” than similar men? Why are extremely provocative candidates judged as “anti-establishment” while other relative novices aiming high who are intelligent and well spoken get dismissed as “light weight”? Why is it that for women there is no middle between “establishment” and “a nobody” or “light hitter”?

    See what I mean? I don’t see those labels as either affecting voters or somebody’s performance in office quite as you say. Too often what happens in primaries is one person gets labeled the “outsider” and the other gets the “establishment” label and everyone else (some of whom might have been viable options) is automatically ignored and dismissed.

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    • I totally agree, by European standards Sanders is a social-democrat at best. But that doesn’t invalidate his arguments or his candidacy.

      Biden was probably the better option in 2016, if one were to play realpolitik only. Clinton was gonna lose from the get-go when up against Trump.

      Sanders most certainly did not damage her candidacy. That was Clinton, the cadre around her, the inept media, old fashioned misogyny and her own hubris.

      No one could teach the Clintons about dirty politics. It’s their bread and butter. That’s how they got the nomination in the first place.

      Biden would have given Trump a run for his money. Now? Not a chance unless the coronavirus rides to the rescue.

      As a sort of anti-establishment figure Warren seems to be a busted flush, as you say in the US. Her bona fides has been badly damaged through her own campaign trail actions and those of her most ardent associates. She’s another one that got dirty when things got tough.

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      • I hate to tell you this but the picture you have painted is grossly distorted.

        Bernie Sanders arguments are absolute, unadulterated horseshit all the way-and his campaign cost us the chance to have Elizabeth Warren, who would have made a great President and would have had an equal or better shot of defeating Trump than Biden and certainly a better chance than Bernie Sanders.

        I’m afraid the narratives you have about The Clintons, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren are 100% untrue. Clinton won the Democratic Primary 2016 because of overwhelming support from African American voters in Southern states where 80-90% of the white vote is Republican. Basically Bill Clinton is extremely popular with that cohort because he was one of the relative few poor white Southern men who actively supported The Civil Rights movement. Basically Bill Clinton’s political capital with black Voters assured that Obama was the only Democrat who could have realistically beaten Hillary Clinton head on in the Democratic primary. There was no “dirty trick” involved. Also because Bernie Sanders spent so much time smearing Hillary Clinton and feeding Trump’s narratives about her, the same Southern black Democrats WERE NOT going to overlook that in the 2020 primary and vote for Bernie Sanders….they aren’t idiots. There was nothing dirty or underhanded.

        Also Hilary Clinton won the popular vote by an uncommonly high margin for a modern Presidential race and got more votes than any other Democrat in history except Obama himself. Trump actually got fewer votes than many losing Republican candidates such as McCain or Romney. So to say she was a losing ticket or that Bernie’s relentlessly feeding Trump’s narratives about her didn’t matter is absolute bullshit.

        The Clintons are not perfect and Hillary Clinton would have been a boring but competent President. However the narratives you have about both of them are as wrong as Javert’s narrative about Jean Valjean. My own reasons for supporting Obama over Clinton in 2008 and only becoming a strong Hillary Clinton supporter in late 2015 are complicated. However even when I was lukewarm to the idea of her as President I always knew that despite not being the warmest or most charismatic speaker, she always was a dedicated progressive with a deep understanding of the dignity of working people.

        Also you grossly mistake American healthcare politics. The biggest opponents of the system Bernie Sanders wants are mostly Labor Unions, not insurance companies or drug companies.

        A whole string of Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt, Lyndon B Johnson, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Barrack Obama tried to implement as less ambitious version of the plan Bernie says he wants to create. All of them ran up against things that included opposition from labor unions, and the fact that by 1970’s the infrastructure was going to make it very difficult to transition the US Health system to anything different at all. So Obama not wanting to repeat that failure once again opted for a transition plan that will probably make the US system evolve into a German or French style Healthcare system over time. Any attempt to transition to the basically Canadian style system that Sanders wants and has failed repeatedly would take 2x-4x.

        Obamacare saved my father’s life and rescued me from a hellish situation that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy: That is actually living with a chronic health problem and no way to get treatment for it. So Bernie wants to wave his holier than thou finger, say Obamacare counted for nothing and it doesn’t matter if Trump dismantles it. Frankly Bernie can just take a long walk off a short pier.

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        • It’s interesting, I’d certainly not be as anti-HC as some, and tend to agree she’d have been a boring yet competent President. Nor am in the Sanders camp, this time around Warren would have been my pick, though she had some fairly odd flaws and contradictions. But just on HC there was a fantastic piece in the New Yorker well after the election that went through her campaign and noted that she made the decision to run while on a holiday home for IIRC either a billionaire or a politico from some Southern American (as in the continent) state. I think that sort of sums up why there was a problem with her – while not dismissing the fact she was indeed a progressive (albeit more in the liberal social issues than economically, though in fairness she’d fit right into the mainstream of FG or FF here in that regard). It was a sense of detachment, of being part of circles who were genuinely distanced, and worse not seeming to perceive that herself. It’s like that godawful rally the week of the election where the liberal great and the good (and I don’t always use liberal as a pejorative) came on stage – and it just seemed weird (it reminds me of Sleater-Kinney, a band I actually quite like but who had a video out a few years back where all their famous friends in the arts and music worlds had cameos on it and it set my teeth on edge because it seemed smug rather than charming). Of course HRC and BC to an even greater extent started out in much less stellar roots and that’s no small thing, but the sense of them moving too far from those roots is very strong. I strongly doubt Sanders would have won in 2016 had he topped the ticket. I think Biden might just have made it. But HC was not a great candidate by any means and had too many potential and actual lines of attack that in that campaign she was fundamentally weaker even in the face of a character like Trump than she should have been.

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          • And this time around? Hmmm… very difficult to tell. Don’t even want to predict, given the problems facing the US (and everywhere) at this point.

            Liked by 1 person

          • It is true that Bill Clinton had the among best working class credentials of any President since Lincoln himself. Hillary’s father (who she worshiped) was a somewhat successful small businessman, but he came from extreme poverty and marginalization as an orphan train child.

            In America class origins aren’t all that good of a predictor of how good or progressive a President will be. Some of the top advocates for the everyday worker in US politics such as both Roosevelts and Senator Kennedy came from wealth. Some like Nixon and Reagan came from fairly humble backgrounds (Nixon was raised Quaker and his grandmother had worked on the underground railroad.) and weren’t especially favorable to the poor and working classes. Although LBJ with his war on poverty came from a working class background he was also raised in a very, very racist environment despite being a mover and shaker on Civil Rights as well.

            The thing about Clinton is she was very focused on the surest road to bring some progressive change to American society-even if that wasn’t very sexy. Bernie keeps promising everything with no real political capital to pull any of it off and no sense of the more practical constraints involved- much like Donald Trump did in any way!!! With Bernie it’s always high level moral invective when in reality better equipped Presidents have tried many times to accomplish some of the stuff he keeps promising to deliver “easily”.

            Elizabeth Warren tried hard to deliver a middle ground between Clinton’s often “not-so-fun” realism and Bernie’s ridiculous “promise everything to everyone” approach. I believe she had the talents to pull it off if anyone did.

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            • What are your thoughts on Biden’s VP pick? Warren? And speaking of VP picks, when I saw Kaine and Pence go head to head I thought… hmmm… they might well lose this election. He may be a great guy in many ways but he just wasn’t persuasive. And granted VP picks don’t win or lose elections (well, they didn’t used to) but… still.

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              • He has already promised a woman. The two main options would be Amy Klobuchar or Elizabeth Warren. He would piss off a lot of women voters if he didn’t follow through on that promise having made it. Also I have a hard time imagining a third option. Harris or Gabbard could easily backfire on him. To pick somebody out of nowhere could become another Sarah Palin disaster.

                If he picked Warren that would probably appeal to a lot of people who didn’t support him initially. With the hard core Bernie supporters, I believe that no matter who he picks they will stay home, and refuse to vote for anyone other than Bernie Sanders.

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              • Of course, there was a time when a moderate Republican was just as compatible with major progressive changes. Sigh!! While my family is Democratic, I think I coulda liked Ike given the opportunity.

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  2. I cannot look at the campaign footage of Biden without feeling uneasy about watching a man totally unfit for office being propped up by those who would rather the society crumble than to pay a little more tax. As to the 2016 prospect of a president Hilary – she would already have committed innumerable- more- war crimes and caused more terror than Trump has been able to do – She , and her like are stinking in the blood of people from countries they have destroyed.

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  3. David Mac

    Biden’s great-grandfather, James Finnegan, emigrated from County Louth as a child, in 1850. All eight of his great-great-grandparents on his mother’s side were born in Ireland during, the first half of the 19th century. On his father’s side, two great-grandparents were also born in Ireland. Essentially that makes him five-eighths Irish. He ‘s a plus for reland to have him n the White House, Bernie’s a decent man but divisive for a conservative America

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  4. Of course, Biden’s ethnic origins are irrelevant, but I know exactly what affects his speaking in some situations.

    Biden has had a stutter since he was a child. This is not a new thing or a sign of cognitive decline. It’s a speech problem the man has struggled with pretty much all his life. As a boy he could hardly talk at all.

    Maybe the American people will end up not judging Biden like this as they once decided not to judge Lincoln for his lanky, awkward, and rather strange appearance and high nasal voice. Or maybe they will hate Trump so much they won’t care any more….There was a significant amount of that before the coronavirus has made anger at Trump off the scale-Mostly what people resent in the lack of tests for the virus. They blame the lockdown or at least the degree/length of it, many of the deaths, and any economic consequences of the virus on the administration’s slowness to act and the one fuck up after another in getting tests. People’s anger at Trump now is off-the-scale.

    If Biden isn’t the ideal candidate? Then you can blame fucking Bernie for the fact other candidates didn’t get a real chance.

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    • I’m aware of Biden’s speech impediment and I make due allowance for that and his age and the stresses of the campaign he is currently undertaking. But his time has come and passed. He’s visibly not the right person to take on Trump and all that will save his chances of defeating the incumbent is the coronavirus and the negative effect it will have on the US economy and society. The worse the better for the Dems.

      But even that may be a forlorn hope with Trump riding high in the mid-crisis polls.

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      • If the issue if Biden’s age, Sanders is almost a year older. If the issue lack of charisma? I don’t know how clear media in Europe makes Sanders’ extremely off-putting communication style. Bernie constantly, wags his finger when he talks. That has never been considered a very Presidential communication style by most Liberals to Moderate Americans. In fact some key groups like working class Midwesterners, Latino voters, Southern African Americans, political moderates and would tend to find that gesture extremely rude and condescending.

        In parts of New England and New York that sort of gesture finger wagging that Bernie Sanders does is a fairly seen as a way of reinforcing your point, and can look authoritative. To some of his supporters around the country it is taken as a sign of “moral conviction” (a lot of how he bills himself as so progressive is to express a view held by plenty of Democrats with more fervor and say things like “I think that’s immoral.”) However to many key groups it just won’t have the same charm it does to most of his core supporters. Frankly, I think the finger wagging could even be a problem if he was to talk with certain foreign leaders as the habit seems to ingrained for him to turn it down when advised to!!! Sorry for pointing out the obvious but I suspect you probably know some of these things but could be underestimating them a bit.

        Most liberal to moderate Americans have a certain ideal of what they want in a President. If they can’t get a JFK or Barrack Obama, they at least want somebody who at least comes across as cool and in control of the situation. Bernie Sanders comes across as too spastic. He rarely laughs and when he smiles it has a sort of “shit eating” crocodile quality. To a lot of people his communication style comes across as “If you disagree with me about anything, you are just a bratty toddler who needs to be strapped into your high-chair and told to eat your vegetables”. I know I find it extremely off-putting and I’m not half as sensitive to such things as a lot of people a Democrat would have to draw to the polls to beat Trump.

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        • I’m not necessarily saying that Sanders is the right candidate either, at this moment. But of the two I’d rather him. If I had a stake in the game 😉

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          • In a sense you do have a stake in this. There is always a chance US politics could affect Ireland.

            In fact, there is a chance there would have been somebody other than Biden or Bernie winning the nomination if Bernie had stayed out of the race. That’s simply a fact. He can’t win but his influence tends to drag down other Democrats.

            As for the notion Sanders is more progressive than Biden, Warren or Clinton I’d say that’s very, very arguable. For one things the plans of Biden tend to focus more on people in the bottom two income quintiles, in some ways a lot of Biden’s ideas are expansions on Lyndon B Johnson’s “War on Poverty”. Bernie Sanders is tends to just promise to throw a massive government largesse at all American in the bottom four quintiles and says relatively little about how he plans to make any of it happen.

            Warren and Clinton rather than Biden or Sanders were both the ones with the strongest focus on making living wage jobs more available and on right to join a labor union. I firmly believe sexism to be a big factor in why so much of society didn’t want to credit women with a “manly” approach to inequality such as focusing on work and labor unions. Of course, the biggest labor union militant in US history was a woman from County Cork!

            ***Actually the influence of Mary Harris “Mother” is a major reason so many American labor unions are staunchly against the kind of Canadian model of healthcare Sanders wants or a more NHS style model. Of course, she’s a massive icon to American labor unionists, but she was a complex figure with a complex legacy.

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            • I tend to the view that the chances of the US electing a candidate to President who has suffered the health problems Sanders has in recent times (and to his enormous credit surmounted) are near enough minimal. Just can’t see it happening. I think Biden is obviously nt as strong as he was in the past but… in that crucial aspect I think Sanders as nominee is very very low indeed.

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              • Yes. Bernie’s heart issues would definitely bite him in the ass.

                My sense is that the coronavirus is going to leave The American people both craving a very stable moderate in The White House and their Governor’s seat, while wanting a lot of progressive change from Congress and their state legislatures. That’s not an impossible combination as long as The Moderate is a Democrat.

                I was shopping for food today and it was like “war zone shelves”. Luckily I found some basic. All the whiskey, vodka, and other hard liquors are out not because people are getting drunk, but because they are mixing them with hand soap, rubbing alcohol and whatever else they can find for makeshift disinfectants.

                People are using bandanas for makeshift masks and all manner of things for makeshift faceshields.

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  5. I find it interesting that the right (not just in America) have little problem achieving big changes -however destructive these may be, whereas with the so called left (by which I mean the liberal establishment -not actual people’s politics) it’s either thin platitudes and compromising to death any real progress change a la Barack Obama or kneecapping genuine popular progressives like Bernie, Tulsi and Jeremy Corbyn through shameless media manipulation, smears and general lack of vision. I can’t stand the right, but they do seem to be able to do big things.

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    • In the US a lot of it comes down to what political scientist’s call “The Long Southern Strategy” which is more complicated and layered than the usual Southern strategy as just a reaction to school integration.

      In a lot of countries, what I believe has happened is that a lot of psychological authoritarians (people who exist in every society at all times) went from being not-that-political and evenly divided by party for “defaulting” sorts of reasons like grudgingly voting for the same party as most of their family and friends voted for. Since the late 1970’s in a list of countries they have become more political, more activist and more concentrated in the right wing parties.

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      • Not just in the US-since the general Keynesian social democratic ascendancy in Western Europe and America after WW2 the right have been extremely successful in doing a long march through the institutions to the point where by the time of the crash, neoliberal policies became something like received wisdom. The fact that they seem to have survived the crash and are refusing to be consigned to the bin says, I think, a lot about the effectiveness of the right’s long strategy. The left haven’t yet been able to do anything similar in the ‘West’ since the early 20thC. I think the Left have just become to conciliatory. We need a lot more fight in us if we’re going to win, and the failure of Corbyn shows that we need to stop apologizing to engineered media outrage as if they were honest actors. The 1percent have such massive resources. All the left have is the ethics and the ideas. I hope they will be enough.

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