The Corner


Joe Biden’s Potential Bid and an Obama Restoration

Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, October 30, 2018 (KC McGinnis/Reuters )

In today’s New York Times, Democratic Representative Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, the former head of the Congressional Black Caucus, said he believes that former vice president Joe Biden is the party’s “best candidate to beat Trump.”

Much of the discussion around Biden has focused on how much of love from Democrats that he enjoyed as Obama’s vice president will continue when he’s flying solo. Biden’s age is obvious, his gaffes are legendary, and today’s Democrats aren’t big fans of his old stances on crime, the death penalty, abortion, and handling of the Anita Hill case.

But one question that hasn’t been explored as much is whether the option of President Biden will prompt more Democrats to reevaluate the Obama era — asking how and why a presidency they loved for so long and thought of as a rousing success could end with the election of a man that they detest. It is hard to overstate how some liberals and Democrats see Trump’s victory in 2016 as catastrophic. Former congressman Tom Perriello, congressional candidate Amy McGrath, and columnist Jonathan Chait all compared Trump’s election in 2016 to the 9/11 attacks. Through this hysterical lens, the Obama era looks less like a progressive era of peace and prosperity than a time when Democratic leaders whistled past the graveyard, oblivious to the lurking and growing menaces of white nationalism, xenophobia, Russian hacking, online disinformation, populist resentment, and so on.

The current “hooray for socialism” mood among Democrats suggests that an increasing number of them look upon the Obama presidency as a complacent time of half-measures, compromises, and soaring, inspiring rhetoric papering over mediocre results. Matt Stoller has argued that Obama’s presidency represented the Democratic establishment becoming excessively comfortable with big banks, big technological companies, big media, and concentrated power: “Obama’s good society was one in which a few actors in this class organize our culture using their power over our lives and liberties, because their virtue has enabled them to have the capital or credentials to do so.”

Most Democrats will probably warmly greet a Biden 2020 campaign that pitches itself as the option closest to an Obama restoration. But a vocal contingent will ask, “If this is the worldview and proposals that will beat Trump . . .  just how different are they than Hillary’s? And if after eight years of Obama, voters chose Trump . . .  how certain can we be that they wouldn’t pick Trump over a return to Obama-ism?”

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