Run, Joe, run!
The political world knows that Vice President Joe Biden is seriously considering a run for the Democratic presidential nomination. No one knows which way he is leaning. But, even the exercise in speculation has had a tonic effect on Democratic Party thinking.
The Vice President is widely loved in Democratic Party circles, and less widely admired. Biden is loved because he is a mensch, a genuinely good man, who cares about the right things, is never too full of himself, and whose passion is a welcome contrast to the eight years of “no drama Obama.” He is more dovish on foreign policy than the rest of the nation, to be sure, but he connects with many white working class voters who felt ignored in Obama’s 2012 re-election run when contraception and abortion rights and gay rights took center stage and bread-and-butter issues were relegated to the sidelines. Biden carries his working class Scranton roots with him wherever he goes, and the kitchen table issues of making the mortgage and paying for college will never be sidelined in one of his campaigns or, if it comes to pass, in his presidency.
The reason voters feel comfortable about Biden’s commitment to kitchen table issues is because he is the kind of guy who you would enjoy having at your kitchen table. Obama is professorial. Hillary Clinton is cold and calculating. Bernie Sanders rants. Biden would ask about your kids and, if they were present, he would engage your kids, even though they can’t vote. Clinton might engage your kids, but you would have the lingering suspicion that she was doing so in order to please the voters at the table.
Even though the campaign so far has been dominated by the anti-establishment candidates, Donald Trump on the right and Bernie Sanders on the left, Biden bridges the divide between the establishment and the rest of us. He has been in politics all of his adult life. He knows the value of focus groups and polls, but he does not let them swamp his humanity. He still blurts out what he really thinks, most famously whispering to President Obama a word we can’t print in a family newspaper, but it came between the words “big” and “deal,” at the signing ceremony for the Affordable Care Act. At the time, people thought it was a gaffe. It wasn’t. It showed his human side. Just as people thought Bill Clinton’s penchant for women other than his wife would doom his political career, in fact, it showed Clinton’s “bubba” side, without which, he was just another Rhodes Scholar with a law degree from Yale.
Biden is a Catholic. Yes, he is pro-choice and, yes, he supports same sex marriage. But, you get the sense that he would not be sticking it to Catholic agencies at the behest of Emily’s List and that crowd, as the Obama administration has done. More importantly, you get that sense not because he lets his religion dictate his politics, but because, to him, Catholic Charities and Catholic schools are not words on a page or political players on a chessboard. They are the people he grew up with, he knows the good that they do in the world, especially for the less fortunate, and he would not be looking to pick a fight. In the best sense of the word, Biden understands politics, as an expression of communal living, and the balancing of rights and responsibilities required to make a community flourish.
At the beginning of the summer, it was widely assumed that this cycle the normally fractious but clarifying rough-and-tumble of a primary season would be replaced with a coronation. Hillary Clinton brought all the good feelings many Americans have about her husband’s tenure, her own remarkable resume, a fundraising capacity unmatched in Democratic circles, and, perhaps most importantly, the unique sense of excitement that infects voters when they think they could be making history, electing the first female president. All of that was true, but it forgot one thing: Hillary also brought herself.
Mrs. Clinton is a lousy candidate. She has not been able to shake the email story, and now it is beyond her control and in the hands of Justice Department officials. This was an entirely self-inflicted wound: In her desire for privacy, she lost control of her privacy. Someone needs to tell Clinton that is she values her privacy as much as she seems to, she should consider a job other than being President of the United States. A person’s right to privacy diminishes in direct correlation to the degree of power that person seeks from the rest of us, and being president confers a great deal of power. Beyond the email scandal, the former Secretary of State simply does not inspire on the stump. The caution, the calculation, it is all on display and virtually self-evident. We can count on one hand, arguably one finger, the times we have seen genuine, unscripted emotion shine through.
Running for president is not easy and, in our crazed political system, announcing his candidacy more than one year before the election is still considered to be late by many. (Best argument for a parliamentary system? Shorter elections cycles.) But, in his long years of service, Joe Biden has built up a large number of connections and chits. He is the sitting vice president. This morning’s Washington Post highlighted the fact that most of Obama’s bundlers have not been bundling for Hillary. And, in the hypothetical match-ups with potential GOP candidates, Biden does as well or better than Clinton.
I would not wish running for president on my worst enemy. The task seems thankless and, if you win, the job seems pretty thankless too. But, it would be good for the party if Biden were to get into the race and it would be good for the country if he were to win. Only Mr. Biden can answer if it would be good for him and his family. And the fact that this last consideration seems to be the one that is holding him back explains exactly why so many people would warm to him if he were to throw his hat into the race. For Joe Biden, politics is personal because it is about persons.