The Wrong Candidate For These Times

I like Joe Biden. He is a good and decent human being who would make a far better president than the man who temporarily resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. His roll out video announcing his candidacy correctly characterized President Donald Trump’s finding moral equivalence on both sides at Charlottesville a betrayal of America’s core values. But, Joe Biden is not the right candidate to lead the United States beginning January 20, 2021.

Jill and Joe Biden and Barack and Michelle Obama campaigning in Iowa in 2012

There are, minimally, two problems with Biden’s candidacy. First, the 76-year-old former vice president simply does not understand the seismic shifts that have occurred in gender relations. And, second, the argument often made for Biden’s candidacy — that he appeals to the white working-class voters who once voted Democratic, even may have voted for Barack Obama for president, but who defected to Trump in 2016 — is the wrong argument aimed at the wrong voters.

Recent revelations of Biden’s overly touchy-feely contacts with women throughout his career probably will not hurt him much with women voters. More serious as an example of Biden’s inability to grasp, for want of a better expression, our “me-too” age is his failure to apologize appropriately for his handling of the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings for associate justice on the Supreme Court in 1992. To put it bluntly, Biden almost, but not quite, gets it.

Clarence Thomas being sworn in at the hearings for associate justice of the Supreme Court

Biden recently telephoned Anita Hill — who accused Thomas of sexual improprieties — to apologize for the manner in which she was treated during the hearings. Biden’s aides say the former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed “his regret for what [Hill] endured,” a non-apology apology Hill found unsatisfactory. Like so many of Biden’s comments on the hearings, those words are off-key. Biden’s attempt at an apology turned him into a passive player in events he controlled (at least, to some extent) as committee chair. He could have guaranteed Hill a fairer hearing, but he did not. Hill “endured” an ordeal in 1992 partly because of him, the words he should have added in his call of regret. 

Anita Hill testifying at the Judiciary Committee hearings

Previously, Biden said he “wished [he] could have done something” for Hill. Again, not quite hitting the nail on the head, Uncle Joe, because, as chair, you could have done a lot for Hill, such as allow corroborating testimony from another witness of Hill’s accusations. The correct sentiment should have been: I deeply regret that I did not do more for Anita Hill.

In a television appearance the day after he announced his candidacy, Biden continued to portray himself as a passive actor in those long-ago events. “I’m sorry for the way [Hill] got treated,” he said. “I don’t think I treated her badly,” he added. The correct formulation should have been, “I’m sorry for the way I treated you, Ms. Hill.” But, Biden just cannot bring himself to say that — or its equivalent. 

Many see Biden — warts and all — as the Democratic candidate with the best chance of defeating Trump because of his working class bona fides. Biden is the front-runner in the race, mostly due to name recognition. Polls show him leading not only the cast of thousands who have announced for the nomination of the Democratic Party, but also ahead of Trump in a hypothetical matchup, 42 percent to 34 percent.

Donald Trump campaigning in Iowa in 2015

The case for Biden as the best Democrat to challenge Trump stresses white, working-class voters and not loyal, faithful Democrats. There is no doubt that Biden — a white male — has cachet among older, white voters who many Democrats believe must be wooed to beat Trump. His presence on the ticket in 2008 and 2012 probably helped Obama get more of these voters to vote for him. But, those are the voters who turned around in 2016 and voted for a racial bigot and xenophobe. 

Are they the voters Democrats should rely upon? Why not nominate a progressive candidate — there are many in the crowded field — who would reward loyal Democrats while energizing new voters by expanding constituencies receptive to the Democratic message? The latter strategy, it turns out, is not only the right thing to do, but it is also where Democrats can find more potential voters.

A recent study by two researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that non-Hispanic white voters comprised a shade under 70 percent of the electorate in 2016. Of that number, only 18 percent were working class. Yet, blacks and Hispanics —- consistent Democratic supporters — totaled 20 percent of the electorate. Does it not make sense for Democrats to energize minority voters as the best means to win back the White House?

Exit polls show that the Democratic presidential candidate never wins the white vote (this has been true for the history of exit polls since 1972). In 2016, Hillary Clinton captured more than nine-in-ten African American voters and nearly two-thirds of Hispanic voters. There are probably far more potential African American and Hispanic voters (and their numbers are increasing) than white voters who can be lured back to the Democratic Party.

As I have written before, Joe Biden has had a long and honored career. But, he has liabilities that will dog his candidacy this time around, and the best argument that his supporters can make — his presumed electability — is illusory. Democrats should look to the future, not the past, and nominate a candidate who can expand the Democratic vote by energizing the party’s core constituencies and beyond.

Sorry, Joe, but history has passed you by.

Posted April 30, 2019

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