Making the click-through worthwhile: If former vice president Joe Biden’s nascent campaign is reeling, it’s because he and his team were never prepared for life without the national media acting as Biden’s reputational bodyguard; the crowd of Democratic candidates may actually leave primary voters dissatisfied; Adam Schiff demands no redactions of the Mueller report at all; and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez misses the easier way to fly.
Why Democratic Candidates Can’t See Themselves Clearly
Ahem. In 2014, The Atlantic wrote a piece by Conor Friedersdorf entitled, “In Defense of Naked Joe Biden.”
Friedersdorf objected to what appeared to be leaks from the U.S. Secret Service about Biden’s behavior when he’s out of the public eye. Author Ronald Kessler wrote in his book, The First Family Detail, that “Agents say that, whether at the vice president’s residence or at his home in Delaware, Biden has a habit of swimming in his pool nude. Female Secret Service agents find the behavior offensive.”
Friedersdorf argued that what the vice president chose to do in his own pool on his own time was no one’s business but his own and he asked why skinny dipping in one’s own pool would qualify as a scandal. Then again, there are some in the political journalism realm who would insist that “the Pence Rule” is a real scandal.
Almost every human trait can be interpreted as a positive one or a negative one, depending upon the circumstances and who’s doing the interpretation. A guy I like is smart; a guy I don’t like is an insufferable know-it-all. Our mutual friend is experienced and seasoned; our mutual foe is old and past his prime. The guy we like is thoughtful and reserved; their guy is a quiet bore who has no personality.
For a long time, Democrats benefited from a media mentality that almost always interpreted their traits through the most positive lens. Rahm Emanuel’s stabbing a table with a steak knife or sending a dead fish to some pollster wasn’t seen as a sign of psychological instability or rage issues; that behavior demonstrated he was a passionate, fiery competitor with a relentless drive. Bill Clinton was a passionate extrovert who wanted to connect with people, not a shameless womanizer. Al Gore was a brilliant, detail-oriented technocrat, not a mildly dysfunctional robot failing to fool people that he’s a human being.
This media perspective that almost all Democratic candidates’ traits can only be positive strengths, and almost never glaring weaknesses, makes a lot of Democrats fairly oblivious to the flaws of their candidates. A lot of the time, friendly media institutions and voices can paper over most of their worst traits. (Certain traits are easier to hide than others.) Where many Democrats saw Hillary Clinton as a feisty, driven, often-unfairly-criticized fighter, many on the Right saw an arrogant, power-hungry liar — and for the first time in a while, in 2016 a lot of non-aligned Americans saw the same negative traits we did.
A lot of us have been making fun of Joe Biden for decades. He’s got a goofy charm, but half of what comes out of his mouth makes no sense. In the 2008 debate with Sarah Palin, he declared, “Along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon,” and everyone just acted like he hadn’t hallucinated a major foreign-policy event. His gaffes are particularly tone-deaf, he’s a blustery blowhard, he’s been wrong about a heck of a lot in his long history, and he’s often an egomaniacal BS artist.
For eight years, Biden got away with a lot because the media chose to perceive him as that “wacky, lovable Uncle Joe” and if the media paid too much attention to his flaws outside of comic relief from the usually serious Obama, it would call into question Obama’s judgment in picking him.
Biden didn’t just start touching women in public this way recently. In BuzzFeed, Katherine Miller writes, “Everybody already knows what they think about Joe Biden putting his hands on people, because we’ve all seen this happen in public. We’ve seen Biden kiss people at public events! We’ve all had years to think about it!” And not many people were upset about it while Biden was vice president — at least not many people on the Left; our John Fund mentioned this in 2015, as did Victor Davis Hanson. I wrote that year that “Biden’s style is a bit ‘hands-on.’”
A few voices on the Left noticed and objected, like this Talking Points Memo article in 2015 — complete with the author wondering whether she’s a “bad liberal” for calling Biden out. But because it rarely got the “It’s time for a national conversation about powerful men invading the personal spaces of younger women” treatment from the national media, most Democrats probably just shrugged it off and assumed the women were thrilled to get the surprise vice-presidential shoulder massage, ear nuzzle, etc.
Miller concludes, “Flores basically kicked the door in on a deferred debate.” This dances around the question of why that debate was deferred.
One can’t help but notice that certain voices are still insisting that this is not worthy of public discussion. This morning, Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s Morning Joe was adamant:
He’s a nice guy, he’s not a predator, and this is ridiculous. Let me just say it, this is ridiculous. It’s completely . . . the conversation has gotten out of control. And Democrats and those on the left who want to tweet me today and go nuts and get all woke, you’re eating your young. You’re eating those who can beat Trump, you’re killing the very people who have been pushing women ahead, who’ve been fighting for equal pay, who have been doing everything they can to respect women in their lives.
Mike Allen’s morning newsletter reports:
Joe Biden advisers believe coverage of allegations of inappropriate behavior is being stoked by rival Democrats — a dynamic that could actually fire up the vice president at a time when others see success as increasingly improbable. Several around Biden think advisers to Bernie Sanders are at least partly behind the anti-Biden campaign. One prominent backer thinks Biden will run, and ‘is ready to kill Bernie.’
Welcome to Thunderdome!
Yes, There Is Such a Thing as Too Many Candidates
Last week I scoffed that the clown car of 2020 candidates was full. Apparently behavioral science agrees:
Behavioral science predicts that too many options will, counterintuitively, result in lower satisfaction among Democratic voters—and possibly lead to lower enthusiasm and lower turnout. We saw a demonstration of this so-called “cereal aisle effect” in the Chicago mayoral race, where a crowded, diverse, and qualified field of 14 candidates without prohibitive frontrunners coincided with almost the lowest turnout in city history at 33.4 percent.
An abundance of marginal candidates will make it harder for Democratic primary voters to comfortably evaluate the candidates with realistic chances of winning — and paradoxically that will reduce enthusiasm for the party’s eventual nominee. Picture a dinner party with too many people sitting around the table: The fact that each guest is a valued friend doesn’t make the experience any less uncomfortable.
Most Democrats are too nice or too scared to say it out loud: A lot of these folks are running for cabinet posts, building name ID for another campaign in the future, looking for TV gigs or other goals, and have no business up on that stage.
Allow me to offer criteria for the presidency that is completely out of touch with the popular mood of the moment and deeply dissatisfying to the media that loves a circus: If you haven’t worked in government before in any capacity, try that first before you decide to run for president. Running the executive branch is different from running a company or even a senate office. If you haven’t been elected statewide, you had better have a sterling resume in some other capacity. If you haven’t faced a serious crisis in your job, wait until you have, because the presidency is certain to throw a crisis at you. Have you worked with a legislature before? Have you convinced a legislature to pass a consequential piece of legislation by building a consensus that wouldn’t have formed without your efforts? Have you experienced some major setback or disappointment, and how did you respond to that? How wide-ranging is your life experience? Have you served in the military? Have you had to hold people you personally like accountable for bad decisions? How well do you delegate and how well can you select people to carry out tasks that are important priorities to you?
Or we could just pick the candidate who has the best YouTube moments from the debates . . .
‘Redactions Are Unacceptable.’
Eli Lake notices that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is publicly declaring that when it comes to the Mueller report, “redactions are unacceptable.” As I wrote yesterday, leaving everything in, including grand-jury testimony without review, violates federal law. What, does Schiff just not care about jeopardizing prosecutions by other law-enforcement offices?
Lake speculates, “maybe Democrats are thinking they can find their collusion pony in the pile of documents that informed Mueller’s investigation” and remembers when Democrats believed in “protecting the reputations of individuals not charged with a crime.” Then again, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler made it clear yesterday when he declared, “if President Trump’s behavior wasn’t criminal, then perhaps it should have been.”
In short, Nadler is contending that even if Mueller didn’t find a crime, whatever behavior he did find should be considered a crime anyway.
ADDENDUM: As Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez complains about the costs of croissants at LaGuardia International Airport — welcome to a marketplace with limited choice and competition, congresswoman — Jeryl Bier notices AOC traveled by chartered jet while on the campaign trail last autumn. Way to fight those carbon emissions!