Time is up on Biden’s stagnant character. It is finally in the spotlight and does not have a place in 2020.
After decades in national politics, the failure to evolve and adapt could prove fatal for his third and final campaign.
Good candidates are open to change, and know how to do so. Excellent candidates change before the voters realise they’re changing. Bad candidates change too slowly. But the awful candidates don’t even recognise their need to change. You know, the types that run for president three times in three different decades and lose every time.
Candidacies are driven by the narratives they either create or get given. In fact, no, entire political careers are driven by their narratives. Again, the excellent candidates create their own narratives; the weaker ones get give them. In a game of word association think of Obama. What do you think of? Hope, change? Or underwhelming, disappointing? Or simply nostalgia for a simpler time. Trump? Refreshing, fearless? Or repugnant, shameless… a criminal. That’s the overall narrative a politician creates/has created. Perhaps the most explicit example of this struggle was Biden’s one time colleague, Hilary Clinton.
But at least Hilary was aware of that and could (try to) tackle it. Her career had been assessed through the context of ‘how does she look’ for decades, in a way that Biden’s simply hasn’t. She, and her team, fought damn hard to fight off perceptions she was not fit for office based on how she spoke, how she looked, and how she behaved. Concerns that Biden so rarely had to factor into his decision making. Hilary implemented counter-measure adverts — both positive and negative — to mediate against the inevitability of this, such as the 2008 3AM ad. Unfortunately for her, by 2016, the damage had been done. And when she fainted at the 9/11 memorial, it was probably past the point of no return for a sufficiently sized constituency of voters.
Similarly, Biden’s career has been shaped by a sense that he’s been at the centre of Washington politics for decades, much like Hilary in that instance. For better or for worse. Be it his plagiarised speech in the 1988 campaign, or the Anita Hill hearings in 1991, or the Crime Bill of 1994. Regardless, there was always an affable, if not lovable, sense to him, perpetuated by his time serving under Obama, irrespective of his flaws. Flaws that are only now being fully exposed as his finally leads in the polls during his third presidential run.
Unlike Hilary, however, Biden has just never had to go through the intense process of public interrogation in the same way and as such it has meant that a deep introspective analysis has never happened and his core personality hasn’t evolved.
This lack of experience is demonstrative in 2020. He lashes out and gets angry. That’s a Trumpian tactic that is entirely unfitting of a Democrat nominee. Previously Biden has said of Donald Trump that if they were at high school he’d “take him behind the gym and beat the hell out of him”. More recently, in his CNN interview he said, “I’d smack him [Trump] in the mouth”.
As much as the Democrats want nothing more than to beat Trump, I think they want someone to beat him electorally, not physically.
Couple this language with Biden in the debates last week. Happy to raise his hand when asked if his health plan would cover illegal immigrants. If I’m being kind, his candidacy looks confused. If I’m not, then it’s an untactful ploy to fit into a space he evidently doesn’t belong.
One of the most shocking aspects of his exposure has been Biden’s inability to accept criticism. He appears baffled with any accusations which in turn become self-fulfilling as failure to command control of one episode spills into another, and another. Biden got agitated during his CNN interview, punctuating his sentences with “I get it, I get it” and “come on, man”. As if to plea with Chris Cuomo to somehow go easy on him because it is ‘his turn’ to be the nominee.
It is not as if Biden is putting on an act for political gain either; trying to play the tough bro because he has foreseen that that’s what people want. It is as if he is simply unaware of how out of touch it seems. Like your Granddad who still uses language you wouldn’t dream of and scoffs when he gets called out. Not like the next Democratic President of the United States.
I have written before about the difficulty Biden will have in selecting what type of election campaign he wants to run this time around. His political experience makes it a hard choice. But as the campaign trickles on, it becomes more and more obvious that whatever his attempt, his candidacy will belie a more fundamental, more unattractive nastiness that is entirely out of step with the expectations of the Democratic (let along national) electorate in 2020.
Unlike his campaign colleague, Bernie Sanders — who could conceivably work to over-come an ingrained narrative — I unfortunately do not offer the same antidote to Biden. Other than perhaps to acknowledge that growth, acceptance, and evolution of one’s character is not just political advantageous, but personally beneficial too. Joe Biden’s character has allowed him to amass decades of success as a Senator and earned him the honour of serving as Vice President for eight years, but it is that very same character that far from making him a genuine contender in 2020, makes him an uncomfortable outsider instead.
It is ironic that candidates who ‘flip-flop’ are accused of being insincere or not real, and yes, there is some strength in consistency. But in Biden’s own words, social norms have changed since he first went into politics, and there is no reason why he cannot, or should not, change with them. Convincingly and properly change.
It is telling that of all stories being told at this stage in the cycle, perhaps the most common is the campaign obituary of Joe Biden.