There probably isn’t a human being alive who mentions the name Barack Obama more often than Joe Biden. At the same time, there probably aren’t two politicians more dissimilar.
In addition to being, as Biden put it, the “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” Obama has always been personally popular, even when his ideas didn’t go over particularly well. Obama engendered passion and loyalty from his idealistic fans and was rarely baited into saying anything impolitic or damaging.
Needless to say, Obama is all the things Biden isn’t.
When asked by an Iowa voter earlier this week if he would support ceasing production of all fossil-fuel pipelines, or some other such nonsense, Biden responded: “You gotta go vote for someone else”
The three-time presidential candidate followed up by pointing out, “You’re not going to vote for me in the primary.”
“I’m going to vote you in the general if you treat me right,” the voter says.
“Yeah, I know . . . well, I’m not,” responded Biden.
Biden’s irritable reaction to this Iowan — a guy who treats his caucus vote like a United Nation Security Council veto — makes me like the candidate more. But one suspects that insulting swing-state Democrats who’ve conceded they’ll support you in a general election is not the optimal approach to winning the presidency.
When a town-hall participant recently brought up Hunter Biden’s shady consulting gig in Ukraine, an issue that has a legitimate chance of damaging his prospects, Biden was presented with a great opportunity to unveil a defense of his son’s honor. Instead, the irascible candidate called the questioner “a damn liar” and “fat.”
When the elderly man persisted by mentioning Biden’s advanced age, another topic that holds some interest for voters, the former vice president challenged him to a contest of physical and intellectual strength. “If you want to take my shape,” Biden said, “let’s do push-ups together, let’s run, let’s do whatever you want to do. Let’s take an IQ test.”
If virility is really a valuable criterion for judging candidates, as Biden seems to suggest, wouldn’t we be better comparing him with other candidates rather than a random octogenarian at a town-hall event? Why bring it up?
And why bring up IQ tests?
Most people, no doubt, have heard that Biden’s 1987 run for the presidency was a debacle. In a famous incident in New Hampshire, Biden, after being pressing about his academic credentials, told a voter, “I think I have a much higher I.Q. than you do, I suspect.”
That might have been true, but Biden, not content to let the guy off the hook that easily, added that he also happened to have attended law school on a full academic scholarship and graduated in the top half of his law-school class.
Turned out it was malarkey. Biden had actually graduated 76th in a class of 85 at Syracuse College of Law — a number even those with run-of-the-mill IQs can figure out is not in the top half — and didn’t go to school on an academic scholarship. Not only had Biden plagiarized Bobby Kennedy and lifted an entire speech from British politician Neil Kinnock, but he pulled the credentials card, challenging the intelligence of voters. He dropped out soon after.
(There seems to be an unhealthy obsession over IQ numbers among presidential candidates of a certain age. Perhaps Donald Trump and Joe Biden will have a Battle Royale–style IQ test should they run against each other.)
Even after his disastrous candidacy, Biden kept flirting with the idea of running, finally giving it another shot in 2008. He finished fifth in Iowa, with 1 percent of the total vote, and dropped out soon after.
Some insinuate that Biden’s faux pas are merely a reflection of age. After reading through Biden’s old speeches and hundreds of pages of his Senate testimony, one can clearly see that the former senator has been passionately and confidentially saying ludicrous things for decades.
After sliding into the Senate by beating a pro-Nixon candidate on the heels of Watergate, and then tethering his ride to a series of Senate guardians, including segregationists — “sometimes even George Wallace is right,” Biden explained in a debate over a tough-on-crime initiative in 1981 — Biden owns a middling record as a politician. Obama, looking to fill the veep seat with the most non-threatening establishment type he could find, saved the old senator’s career.
Of course, being a mediocre politician doesn’t make you a bad person — maybe the opposite. Yet, I’ve never met anyone in my life who was legitimately pumped up about a Biden presidential candidacy. Those who witnessed the 2008 Denver coronation of Obama, or the rise of Trump, can attest to the importance of passion in politics. The entire foundation of Biden’s case for the presidency is series of banal considerations: his (highly overstated) time in the Obama White House, his Senate experience (though he’s tried to whitewash 40 years of votes to mollify progressives), and his electability as a supposedly moderate option.
Maybe that will be enough to put him over the top in primaries, and perhaps even into the White House. But boy, is he bad at this.