Opinion

The case for Joe Biden

Democrats need something real. Something reliable. Something… Biden.

As any Republican can tell you, it's already been a wild election season, and the campaign has hardly gotten started. Now, it's time for Democrats to join the party. Unable to deny Hillary Clinton's weakness any longer, they're going to their happy place — a fantasy named Bernie Sanders. But they need something real. Something reliable. Something… Biden.

There are probably hundreds of reasons why Joe Biden shouldn't run for president. But when you take a minute to think about it — and think, now, we must, as rumors abound that he's getting ready to throw his hat in the ring — none of them are terribly compelling.

Biden wouldn't be walking into a coronation; the Clintons will see to that. But Hillary Clinton's own apparent inevitability has always been just that — merely apparent. Sure, her team knows how to run a campaign. Sure, absent any top-tier competition, by default 2016 was "her turn." And yes, there are still a decent number of influential party folk who actually want her to be president.

Then again, the Democrat establishment has never been truly enamored of Team Clinton — not in a way that would keep fundraisers and operatives from fleeing Hillary Clinton's growing email scandal if there was safe harbor elsewhere. And some of the party's biggest, most respected figures, like Al Gore and Jerry Brown, are especially sour on them. Then, of course, there's Barack Obama, who reportedly gave his "blessing" to Biden for a run.

Speaking of Biden's boss: However much liberals may be consoled by Obama's last-inning burst of confidence and credibility, they know — and Americans viscerally feel — that the president has hobbled his own legacy. Despite a track record most Democrats appreciate, there's a sense of nagging disappointment and unfinished business that's hard to disentangle from Obama's sharp limits as a party leader. His relationship with Congress, especially, has been extraordinarily poor and standoffish. And his home-stretch swagger has been tainted by the steady trickle of reports that show the president most comfortable in the presence of America's 0.000001 percent, wining and dining plutocrats and ultra-celebrities, plotting his next chapter.

Democrats' and Americans' ambivalence toward Obama has created a strange puzzle with a missing, Biden-shaped piece. Neither Obama's presidency nor his legacy is broadly despised, yet the administration is not especially beloved. If only there was a more collegial heir ready with a more human touch to governing and leadership! The Democratic imagination is prepared for a Biden run.

Of course, there are problems. Biden's inappropriately handsy — not just toward women, but toward policy. Nervous progressives have already rolled out harsh reviews of his signature agenda items: the partition of Iraq, the war on drugs, the national security state. Gleeful conservatives have already rubbed salt in the wound, name-checking Biden's support for the Defense of Marriage Act and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It would be all too easy to slam Biden for these transgressions on grounds of partisanship and simple judgment.

But nobody will. The Republicans who can hit him with authority on civil liberties, like Paul and Perry, may not even survive the summer. And on the left, when it comes to an ideologically checkered past, Team Clinton is on as shaky ground as Biden. If Biden decides to run, President Obama won't undermine him. In fact, even if Obama refuses to endorse Biden — a move that would come off as a bizarre and humiliating act of self-repudiation — he wouldn't endorse any of Biden's challengers. With or without Obama's help, Biden can sidestep whatever criticism comes his way by announcing that his eight years in Obama's White House taught him the error of his former ways. He has been chastened. Humbled. Bettered.

Turns out, that's the kind of figure Americans secretly want to lead them: someone who has been scourged and ennobled in the scourging. We've been waiting a long time for that kind of candidate — Democrats especially. After all, the last contender to achieve that sorrowful but powerful status was Bobby Kennedy.

And here's where Biden has the kind of advantage that reaches down into the political arena from somewhere on high. Not only could he be the first presidential candidate since RFK to infuse his campaign with a tragic personal grief that echoes our national dismay even as it puts it into a higher, deeper perspective. He could work the magic we Americans love to see most — using that poignancy to achieve a gracefully centered kind of levity. If Democrats are looking for their anti-Trump, Biden's it.

The case for Biden is clear — so clear, I needn't even mention Elizabeth Warren. But for those who just won't be satisfied without a slam dunk, I've got two words for you: Elizabeth Warren.

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