The Corner

Politics & Policy

Say It Ain’t Joe

Long time readers know that I am pretty critical of Joe Biden. Still, I completely understand and support the time-out on full-throated attacks on Biden in the aftermath of the tragic death of his son. So I will refrain from any excessive bashing here. Still, I think the idea that he’s the solution to the Democrats’ Clinton problem is kind of nuts. Yes, Biden is a better politician than Clinton (though even more gaffe-prone). And he’s certainly more likable, less corrupt, and all that. I would also add he’d probably be better at holding on to the part of the Obama coalition that is truly wild about Obama (but certainly worse at holding on to identity politics voters who want to vote for the first woman president). Clinton cannot bring herself to be an enthusiastic Obama booster the way Joe can. She takes Obama’s positions, Biden sells the man. 

But beyond that, I don’t get it. Most of the pieces I’ve seen focus on the lateness of the process and the difficulties Biden would have attracting top flight talent and campaign donors. But these seem like secondary problems. Biden’s real challenge is the moment we are in. If you hadn’t noticed, both parties are on the defensive right now. The GOP is dealing with Donald Trump, who is essentially running a third party campaign under the GOP’s banner. Everyone understands that. Less understood is the fact that Bernie Sanders is doing pretty much the same thing to the Democrats. The status quo, the establishment, whatever you want to call it; it’s not popular right now. The majority of Americans in both parties feel like we are on the wrong track and that the traditional leaders have screwed up.

So explain to me again why Joe Biden is the answer to the Democrats’ problems? Joe Biden is more of a creature of Washington than even Hillary Clinton. He was elected to the senate 1972. The following year, Hillary Clinton graduated from law school. 

He’s also more married — emotionally, politically, factually — to the Obama record. In every way, Joe Biden is the “stay the course” candidate.  While Obama is still popular with the rank and file of the party, that has more to do with Obama’s cult of personality than it does with his actual policy successes. I don’t think Biden is constitutionally capable of pitching his rhetoric to take this distinction into account. He simply cannot resist the temptation to oversell not only the administration’s accomplishments but his own. Running seven years after he declared “recovery summer” when most people still feel like that summer never arrived would put him in a very strange bind. In effect, he’d be going around the country telling people not to believe their lying eyes.

In short, Hillary Clinton actually presents two distinct but mutually reinforcing problems for the Democrats: 1) She’s a lousy politician  and 2) she represents a Washington establishment and corrupt status quo that is under siege by populists on the left and the right. Subbing-in Biden might fix some of the first problem but it would do little to fix the second.

Any way you slice it, the fact that Biden is the best the Democrats can come up with is a perfect illustration of the damage Obama has done to his party. 

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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