Magazine May 20, 2019, Issue

One for the Sniffer

Then-Vice President Joe Biden talks to Stephanie Carter as her husband Ash Carter delivers his acceptance speech as the new Secretary of Defense at the White House in 2015. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

The case for Biden has little to do with his policies, whatever they might be. It’s the promise of a return to normalcy, which means we have to have a long, tedious national conversation about whether “normalcy” is a word. (It is.) But Biden is not a normal guy. You can’t huff the hubristic helium of the Senate for a few decades without having your ego permanently enlarged, and Biden’s self-regard is so monumental you suspect the first thing he googled in 2012 was “Can a vice president be on Rushmore?”

He’s not normal in the touchy-grabby sense, at least not by today’s standards. Before he announced, there was a video compilation of Biden putting his soft paws on whatever female participated in a photo op, and while the hands usually stayed in the shoulder realm, he seemed habitually drawn to deep whiffs of women’s hair. It’s not like he regularly appeared on the Senate floor in his bathrobe and let it casually fall open, like all the other pervs deep-sixed by Me Too, but it’s odd, and not normal.

Oh that’s just Joe, we’re told. Affectionate! He comes from a different era, when men regularly interrogated women’s scalps with their nostrils. He’s just getting to know them. That’s the same thing I say about my dog when he pokes his snout in someone’s trousers.

Okay, what about Trump? Grab ’em by the bleepy and all that? Well, that was disgusting and juvenile. He probably did exactly that, forgot about it, moved on to the next objectified conquest. With Biden, however, you wouldn’t be surprised if he later wrote in a small notebook “April 3, 1994, swearing in the undersecretary of Commerce. Wife had distinct notes of Prell with a Wella Balsam finish.”

No, the normality of Joe’s normal normalcy is the tone he returns to Washington — and hence the world.

According to this theory, everyone is exhausted by Trump, who has changed the sedate, civilized tone of modern politics into a hail of bowling balls on a metal roof with a police siren 24/7 in the background.

Perhaps. Part of the exhaustion may come from the incessant panic of liberal commentators and tweeters, who have been hollering horrified harangues at everyone since Trump took office.

The anti-Trumpers on the left may be exhausted by constantly rubbing Rogaine in their scalp to ensure they’ll have some hair to set on fire tomorrow. The anti-Trumpers on the right may be irritated by attacks from their own side and the constant work required to hew to principle without hating on the Donald because he’s acting like a semi driver having a low-sugar diabetic moment on an eight-lane road with a load of nitro.

Everyone may want a calmer political atmosphere, but most people have factored the imminent apocalypse into their daily routine by now.

President Trump (speaking at rally): “The energy part is back, it’s fantastic, and let me tell you, it’s better than it’s ever been. Let me tell you.”

CNN host: “The president’s number of confirmed lies increased by one today, when he said the ‘energy part’ has never been better. We have Arthur Scowlee in studio to explain just why this matters. So, was this an off-the-cuff lie stemming from ignorance, as we see so often with this president?”

Guest: “It’s important to note that the energy sector has traditionally underemployed women, who are more likely to work in health care and education. While it’s technically true that the energy sector is doing well, it was never gone, so it can’t be back. So that’s the first lie. But I’d also point out that the president is sending a message to the alt-right climate deniers, and you’d think they’d hate carbon emissions because the polar bears drowning because of habitat loss are white.”

Yeah, whatever, most people think. Not exhaustion, but boredom.

Which brings us to Joe Biden’s 404 page. That’s the page on his website you get when you type in something that doesn’t exist, like It shows a picture of Biden in shades, with an ice-cream cone.

Stay cool, it says. I’ll get us back on the rails soon.

As messaging goes, it’s clever. Stay cool! Because he’s looking cool in his sunglasses. Biden has an easy cheer that’s certainly more appealing than the default grumpy Trump scowl. “I’ll get us back on the rails.” A shout-out to the mass-transit people, and a nod to Biden’s publicized patronage of Amtrak, the only transportation system that regularly suffers delays due to things like “mist” and “ennui.” We’ve gone off the rails of normalcy, and Joe can get us back on track.

If Trump had said it, it would be a coded message about the boxcars that ended at Auschwitz, but never mind that. What really matters is the picture of Biden. He has an ice-cream cone in one hand.

And a spoon in the other.

This is not normal. This is like eating a grinder with a knife and fork. Most people won’t see the page, or see tweets about it, or see a news story about Biden’s 404 page. But at some point Trump will be asked about a charge Biden made, and he’ll say, “Listen, he’s a guy who likes to sniff little girls’ hair — check it out, it’s totally true — and he eats an ice cream cone with a spoon? I care about the job ICE is doing getting bad hombres out of our cities, and let me tell you, they’re not using spoons.”

That’s the new normal. Inasmuch as anything’s normal anymore.

In This Issue

In Defense of Markets

Books, Arts & Manners


The Week

The Week

Until Biden’s poll numbers come down, we advise the women of Iowa and New Hampshire to keep their distance.

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