How Biden-mania exposes the desperation of Democrats
Vice President Joe Biden, a veteran of two embarrassing presidential campaigns, has suddenly become the Flavor of the Month in media coverage of the Democratic presidential nomination race. With Hillary Clinton's favorability ratings taking a dramatic dive, the need to find a suitable alternative has become all too obvious. But just as obviously, the focus on Biden shows how poorly the Democratic Party has fared in developing talent for the national stage.
The buzz around Biden is growing louder. ABC News reported on Sunday that "in camp Biden, there are discussions about fundraising and launching a political action committee." The New York Times' Amy Chozick independently heard the same from her own sources, reporting that "Biden and his associates have begun to actively explore a possible presidential campaign," which Chozick reported would "deliver a direct threat" to Clinton's campaign. And then, of course, there was this tear-jerker from Maureen Dowd, reporting on a purported conversation between Biden and his son Beau before the younger Biden passed away in May.
Beau was losing his nouns and the right side of his face was partially paralyzed. But he had a mission: He tried to make his father promise to run, arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values. [The New York Times]
This rash of Biden-mania is nonsensical. At 72, Biden represents the face of the Washington establishment more than any other potential candidate on either side of the race — and that includes Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush. Biden first came to Capitol Hill in 1973 as a senator from Delaware, and stayed put for 35 years, until he became vice president. In a political environment where anti-establishment populism has challenged the leadership of both parties, Biden appears uniquely disqualified from capitalizing on the animating emotional engagement of the electorate. Even the Clintons, who have been in Washington for 22 years, look like newcomers in comparison.
And let's not forget, Biden has a poor track record in presidential contests. In 1987, he was exposed for plagiarizing speeches from British Labour politician Neil Kinnock — right down to anecdotes about Kinnock's family. Even before that, Biden had trouble making headway in a field so charismatic that the Democratic field was nicknamed "the Seven Dwarfs," with Michael Dukakis eventually emerging with the nomination. Biden waited 20 years to try again, only to stumble on the day of his announcement. When asked about then-Senate-backbencher Barack Obama, Biden replied, "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."
The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza offered a succinct reality check for Biden-believing Democrats, noting that Biden doesn't improve the Democratic brand on any of the party's presumed priorities.
What is the case for Biden over HRC? Youth?❌ Gender?❌ Broad party support?❌ Lefty cred?❌ Money?❌ Superior campaigner?❌ Makes no sense.
— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) August 2, 2015
The idea of Biden 2016 makes sense in only one way: It's just about Democratic desperation in the face of Clinton's faltering.
Tellingly, no one else's name comes up in these if-not-Hillary-then-who scenarios. Bernie Sanders has caught the imagination of the progressive left, including an endorsement from co-founder of Vermont's own Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream, but few seriously believe that the 73-year-old self-proclaimed socialist would find any other constituency in a general election. Sanders has seized the constituency of progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who hesitated too long. Martin O'Malley shot himself in the foot with African-American activists at Netroots Nation last month, and even Sanders had trouble dealing with the grassroots at the event. Neither Jim Webb nor Lincoln Chafee has put together any kind of organization. And overall, this roster of Democratic possibilities shows less diversity in age and ethnicity than the range of possibilities on the GOP ticket.
Look beyond this list, however, and there are few alternatives for Democrats. Many have wagged their fingers at Democrats for investing too much in the Clintons, but where else could they have looked? In three straight election cycles, Democrats have taken body blows at the state and local level, with their share of state legislative seats at its lowest point since Herbert Hoover was president. Their gubernatorial ranks have been thinned as well, as a moment's thought will attest. Republicans have a number of two-term governors vying for the nomination, and a number still on the bench — names like Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley, Rick Snyder, Mike Pence, and others. Democrats have no ready bench players in position to step up for a national campaign, even if the Clintons' grasp on the donor class didn't preclude it.
That should be real cause for desperation — because it isn't just about this cycle. If Democrats lose the White House in 2016, they have no one ready for 2020. Can you honestly name a Democratic senator or governor who would give a President Rubio or President Walker or President Bush 3.0 a real run for his money in 2020?
That's the thing. Biden only looks attractive because the alternative is a generational disaster.