Six months ago, I wrote a column titled "Anybody but Hillary? The case for Warren-Webb in 2016."
Well that certainly didn't go anywhere.
But that doesn't mean my instinct to seek out "anybody but Clinton" was wrong. On the contrary, between Hillary's inept handling of the bottomless email imbroglio, Bill's predictably defensive and passive-aggressive response to her critics, and the boatload of potential scandals lurking around in the sleaziest corners of Clintonland, I've come to view the Democratic frontrunner as a ticking time bomb for her party and the country.
That leaves Bernie Sanders as the most viable "anybody" currently in the race. But that doesn't ease my mind.
Don't get me wrong: Currently clocking in at roughly 28 percent nationally (in comparison to Hillary Clinton's 41) and leading handily in New Hampshire, Sanders is doing remarkably well. And in a campaign cycle that's seen the lefty Jeremy Corbyn wrest control of the British Labour Party from the centrist Blairites, it just might be possible for a left-leaning candidate to capture the Democratic nomination — and, who knows, even win the presidency (at least if he's pitted against one of the two guys currently leading the GOP race).
But even then I'm afraid I can't quite wrap my head around the possibility of a Sanders victory in November 2016. Why do I find it implausible? Oh, I don't know. Maybe it's because if Hollywood were looking to cast the role of a 70-something socialist union organizer on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early decades of the 20th century, Sanders would land the part in a heartbeat. I just don't buy that a plurality of middle-American general-election voters will cast a ballot for a guy like that. (The fact that he's also proposing a few trillion dollars' worth of new federal spending without adequately explaining where the money's going to come from doesn't thrill me either.)
As recently as a month ago, this combination of options had me feeling a little demoralized. But that was before I (along with lots of other people) began to take a second look at Joe Biden.
I'll admit, until recently I scoffed at the idea of him jumping into the race. Biden's been kicking around an awfully long time. (He first ran for president and lost in the primaries in 1988, when I was a freshman in college.) He has a history of verbal gaffes that could make a Biden presidential campaign a nightmare to run. He has his own skeletons in his closet (a plagiarism scandal in law school). He's not identified with any specific issue, agenda, or constituency. And he's no spring chicken (72 years old to Clinton's 67).
That makes him sound like a pretty weak candidate. But on a second look, I like what I'm seeing (and some of what I'm remembering).
Along with many millions of people, I was mighty impressed by Biden's mid-September interview with Stephen Colbert. Talking with frankness about his faith and how he's coped with more than his share of loss in his life — in addition to the death in May of his 46-year-old son Beau from brain cancer, his first wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972 — Biden sounded refreshingly unpolitical. He came off as charming, warm, and comfortable speaking without a script — someone who (unlike some) doesn't need to practice his authenticity.
Then there are Biden's recent statements staking out a more conflicted position on abortion than one expects to hear from such a prominent Democrat. This places him far closer to the consensus position on the issue than most leading members of his party and may indicate that he would cultivate more of a working-class, middle-American sensibility than we've seen from a Democratic presidential candidate since...well, since Jim Webb announced he was running. Yet unlike Webb, Biden seems, so far, to be pulling it off. Good for him. And good for the Democratic Party if he can run and succeed as that rarest of things — a moderate on the most divisive issue in the culture war.
On foreign policy, Biden might be even more interesting. Not many people remember it now, but back during George W. Bush's second term, Biden proposed that Iraq be broken up into three semi-autonomous regions — one Sunni, one Shiite, and one Kurdish. It was a bold proposal that was quickly forgotten once W's troop "surge" finally managed to tamp down the insurgency that was tearing the country apart at the time.
But of course the violence returned, and now we're back again to something approaching chaos, with the desert west of Baghdad serving as a home base for ISIS, the country's Sunni and Shiite populations nearly at each other's throats, and the Kurds (as always) just trying to live their lives without getting sucked into the whirlwind of violence around them. If that's not a complete vindication of Biden's proposal, which would surely have provoked its own forms of instability, it's at least refreshing evidence that he was willing to think outside the narrow, unimaginative, ideological boxes that too often determine foreign policy thinking inside the Beltway. American politics could use more of such thinking.
Finally, there's domestic policy — an area where Biden has never really stood out or distinguished himself. And that's where Warren comes in.
Biden should only jump into the race if he can persuade Warren to change her mind and take the leap with him, forming a complete ticket before the first votes are cast this winter, with the senator from Massachusetts serving as a running mate and senior domestic policy adviser in waiting. Take Biden's everyman charisma, foreign policy chops, and extensive experience as a senator and vice president, and combine it with Warren's firey, whip-smart, left-liberal populism on domestic policy and you'd have a hell of a ticket. It would be one straight out of Hillary Clinton's nightmares — and one perfectly poised to poach support from Sanders with the message, "I get why Bernie appeals to you, but we will do it better — and we can win this thing."
Put Sanders' support together with what Biden currently enjoys and you'd have a candidate with nearly 48 percent of the Democratic vote nationally to Clinton's 41 percent.
That's the contest that American politics needs — and Democratic voters deserve.