Elections

The Cipher as Presidential Candidate

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Clark County Democratic Party’s 2020 Kick Off to Caucus Gala, Las Vegas, Nev., February 15, 2020. (Gage Skidmore)
If the party had decided to order up a generic representative, it couldn’t have done any better than Joe Biden.

What William McKinley was to the front-porch campaign, Joe Biden is to the basement campaign.

Sidelined and confined to his house by the dictates of coronavirus social distancing, the former vice president has been limited to intermittent appearances from a makeshift studio in his basement. They have been awkward and low-energy, but that doesn’t really set them apart from most other Joe Biden appearances.

If there’s any candidate who could thrive by having very limited public exposure and existing mostly as a line of a ballot, it’s the longtime presidential aspirant who hadn’t won a primary until a couple of weeks ago.

Biden is winning the Democratic nomination on the basis of not being Bernie Sanders and wants to get elected president on the basis of not being Donald Trump. He’s as purely a negative candidate as we’ve seen in a very long time, running largely on who he isn’t and what he won’t do.

He’s the presidential candidate as cipher.

Prior to his recent mini media tour, did anyone seriously miss Joe Biden? Wonder what he had to say? Expect him to come up with a bold, captivating coronavirus plan or an arresting formulation?

There is no Biden movement. For much of the primary campaign, he couldn’t build a crowd to save his life. He had no organization or money.

There is no Biden charisma. He’s not young, handsome, eloquent, or interesting.

There is no Biden catchphrase. He doesn’t have “hope and change” or “make America great again.”

For decades, he’s stayed reliably within the mainstream of the Democratic Party at any given time — hence, his recent turn further left — and his views have largely reflected center-left conventional wisdom.

If the party had decided to order up a generic representative, with nothing original to say and a campaign utterly untouched by new thinking or methods, it couldn’t have done any better than Joe Biden.

He’s led on everything across the past four decades, at least according to his own account, and yet has done nothing particularly memorable.

He’s the opposite of a fresh face on the scene without an extensive record to defend — think George W. Bush or Barack Obama. But he’s proving that a very old slate can be almost as invulnerable to attack as a blank slate.

The length of his career means that most of his past controversial positions lost their political salience long ago. They are such artifacts of another era that they can’t be used against him anymore.

Kamala Harris learned this when she executed a fruitless ambush on Biden on the 40-year-old issue of busing. President Donald Trump will hit Biden on the crime bill, which passed more than a quarter of a century ago, and his vote for the second Iraq War, Biden’s most contemporary legislative vulnerability since he took the vote less than two decades ago.

Biden’s candidacy holds interest only to the extent he is gaffe-prone. His misfires aren’t Hillary Clinton–style gaffes, laced with arrogance and an insulting dismissiveness that makes them a rallying cry for the other side (e.g., “deplorables”).

Instead, Biden’s verbal tangles, incomplete sentences, and weird mix-ups are amusing — and concerning. They will be used to argue that he isn’t up to the job, but they don’t make anyone hate Biden. He can’t even generate strong feelings in his partisan opposition.

All that said, Biden deserves credit for his insight that the Democratic Party wasn’t defined by woke Twitter and that Obama-Biden Democrats, as he calls them, still constituted the party’s center of gravity. He correctly believed — or hoped — that African-American voters would see him through.

His victories on Super Tuesday and afterward showed that Democrats were willing to turn out en masse for an uninspired candidacy, and it may be that the same dynamic will hold in November.

If so, Biden could do worse than stay in his basement for the duration.

© 2020 by King Features Syndicate

Most Popular

Elections

Against Jo Rae Perkins

On Tuesday, Jo Rae Perkins won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Oregon. The Oregon GOP says it will back her candidacy notwithstanding her associations with the “QAnon” movement. That’s a mistake. Perkins is an unreconstructed exponent of a batty and corrosive conspiracy theory running a ... Read More
Elections

Against Jo Rae Perkins

On Tuesday, Jo Rae Perkins won the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Oregon. The Oregon GOP says it will back her candidacy notwithstanding her associations with the “QAnon” movement. That’s a mistake. Perkins is an unreconstructed exponent of a batty and corrosive conspiracy theory running a ... Read More
World

Hong Kong, All Alone

China is currently transgressing the terms of its 1997 treaty over Hong Kong, which promised a “one country, two systems” settlement that preserved Hong Kong’s somewhat autonomous democratic institutions. These institutions guarantee rights to Hong Kongers and guard its common-law inheritance. China’s ... Read More
World

Hong Kong, All Alone

China is currently transgressing the terms of its 1997 treaty over Hong Kong, which promised a “one country, two systems” settlement that preserved Hong Kong’s somewhat autonomous democratic institutions. These institutions guarantee rights to Hong Kongers and guard its common-law inheritance. China’s ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More

How to Avoid a China-Led World Order

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, it has opened our eyes to China’s rapidly expanding role in the international order and global economy. Beijing’s outsize role in the World Health Organization has come under attack, as has the muscular diplomacy used by China’s foreign ministry in responding to ... Read More

How to Avoid a China-Led World Order

As the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, it has opened our eyes to China’s rapidly expanding role in the international order and global economy. Beijing’s outsize role in the World Health Organization has come under attack, as has the muscular diplomacy used by China’s foreign ministry in responding to ... Read More

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More