So after all that, we ended up with Joe. I’m disappointed about Elizabeth and Pete. Not so disappointed about Bernie, though I admire him and wish President Joe would appoint him America’s first Prophet Laureate.
Joe was well down my list, but he’s a hard man not to like. Never, ever underestimate the importance of likeability when it comes to the American electorate. An easy candidate to like is now running against the easiest one to dislike. That’s a big advantage this year.
But Joe got off to that rough start. He’s an old white guy who kept stumbling over his words. I was afraid he was in decline and no longer had what it takes. Then I learned he suffered from a stutter, exacerbated no doubt by the pressure of competing against so many other good and sharp candidates. I would have stumbled, too, if the debate moderators gave me one minute to sum up my position on extremely complex issues. Mass debates are insane. I hope we stop holding them. So I stopped holding it against Joe.
Politics, they say, is the “art of the possible,” and Joe is looking more and more possible — even likely. I hope and pray he’s up to the task. Then again, that task has changed, dramatically, thanks partly to the pandemic.
But not entirely. Most of us don’t need or want a cult of personality anymore. I’m not looking for another Obama or FDR or Lincoln to sweep me away. I’m looking for a different kind of leader altogether, certainly different from the Great Macy’s Bombast Balloon currently expelling hot air from the Oval Office. Joe Biden may just fit the bill.
We don’t need another Nuremberg-rally cheerleader. We don’t need adrenaline-rush oratory. We don’t need pontificating salesmanship. We don’t need a fearless fuehrer carrying us into the future on brawny, buff shoulders. It’s pretty clear to most of us now, clarified by this pandemic, how much progress this country needs. Better to have someone who doesn’t take himself too seriously, someone who isn’t always trying to prove something or work out his psychological issues. Someone who wasn’t necessarily our first choice.
Instead of a “savior,” we need “safer.” We need “saner.” We don’t want Superman. We want someone with a functioning Superego — and a reality-based ego.
Joe Biden isn’t larger than life. He’s as large as life. Bush wasn’t as large as life. Trump is too large — excess in all its ugliness. Too hot, too cold, but Joe’s porridge might be just about right. He may not be a great president. But he’ll be a good-enough president. Right now that sounds pretty damn good.
Are we settling for Joe? Maybe, but maybe that’s just what the doctor ordered after the disruption of the last four years. With Joe, nobody loses and maybe we all win. Not settling so much as settling down, a nation badly in need of healing after COVID-2016.
Democrats settled on Joe with surprising speed. Maybe we’re smarter than we realize. We’ve spent four years with an ugly American who cares about nobody but himself. Now he’s up against someone who has made a career of caring about other people. That’s like a choice between the desert and the oasis. Is it a mirage? Only one way to find out. Go there.
Will he do enough to advance a more progressive agenda? That’s the big question. We’re facing two huge challenges right now — health care and climate change — that urgently need to be addressed. Plenty of other issues right behind those, but the only way to push a progressive agenda is to give Joe and the Democrats a governing majority — a veto-proof majority. That’s not up to Joe. It’s up to us.
Joe Biden may be our surprise choice, but he’s got two big things going for him:
First is empathy. He has genuine feeling for people because he’s suffered major losses in his life. And most Americans have also suffered losses. He’s not going to ignite great passion, but people can feel him. He’s at the mensch end of the humanity spectrum, as opposed to the deranged, damaged mess who barely registers at the other end.
Someone with warmth and feeling is especially welcome right now. He’s a little too old to be too full of himself. That’s a good thing. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had it with overinflated ego.
The second thing he’s got going for him — the most important thing to me — is that the vast majority of African Americans want him to be president. I trust their instincts. I suspect most black voters can spot a phony white politician a mile away.
From a purely political angle, Democrats need the “black vote,” but we also need the “women’s vote,” the “immigrant vote,” the “Latinx vote,” and the “millennial vote.” We need the “independent vote,” the “moderate vote,” the “center-right vote” and the “progressive vote.” Every one of these groups is important. We need the broadest coalition this country has ever seen. And Joe may be the only one that coalition is willing to unite behind.
This is a referendum on the Colossus of Incompetence, but we’ll need every vote we can get to fire him because we’re mired in a corrupt, rigged electoral system, and Republicans will pull out every trick in their playbook to tilt the results. We’ll need a tidal wave of votes to cleanse ourselves of these extremists once and, hopefully, forever.
But I’m not speaking politically when it comes to African Americans. From what I’ve read, most want Joe because he faithfully served Barack Obama as vice president, emphasis on “faithfully” and “served,” and I’m guessing they didn’t believe any white politician was capable of that. He didn’t attempt to undercut or undermine or work around his boss. He kept his ego in check and became Barack’s willing partner. And because of that, they trust him. They like him for plenty of other reasons, but that one is significant.
If African Americans trust Joe Biden, so do I. If African Americans want him as president, then for once, God damn it, the rest of America should follow suit instead of expecting them to follow us.
This election, I’m happy to be guided by their preference.