I don’t hate Joe Biden. He seems like an amiable guy, a decent man. He’s been around Washington for a long time — first as a senator for 36 years and then as Barack Obama’s vice president for two terms. Along the way, he’s managed to make relatively few enemies. He’s also been through a lot of personal tragedy. That makes it especially easy to think fond thoughts when his name comes up, as it often does these days, in discussions of the early presidential polls, which consistently show Biden as the early Democratic frontrunner and the candidate most likely to send President Trump packing in November 2020.
But let’s get serious: Actual Candidate Joe Biden is going to be a lot less popular than Potential Candidate Joe Biden. To begin with, there’s his record, which couldn’t be further out of step with the party he aims to lead. He’s been steadfastly pro-corporate in his instincts and preferences, as one might expect from a senator representing the state of Delaware, home to the country’s credit card industry. His racial views in the 1970s placed him on the rightward fringe of his party. He was hard on Anita Hill during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings. He campaigns for Republicans. And he has a long history of handsy behavior, and downright sleazy off-color statements, toward women.
Then there’s his long, notorious track record of gaffes and other verbal flubs. Endearing? Maybe. With the Republican president demonstrating flagrant ignorance and incompetence on a daily basis, perhaps an occasional harmless slip-up from the slightly doddering Democrat (Biden is 76 years old) would seem charming — a reminder of a more innocent time, when presidential misstatements were actual mistakes rather than fulminations intended to demonstrate contempt for our public institutions and antipathy for half of the country’s population.
But presidential candidate Biden won’t just face a grilling over his record and have to explain away a sloppy formulation from time to time. These two tendencies are going to combine into an endless gaffe-riddled apology tour for nearly everything Biden has ever done or said.
Don’t believe me? Behold the spectacle of the past two weeks. First, Biden gave a speech in which he appeared to announce (prematurely) that he was running for president, in the process describing himself (absurdly) as the "most progressive" candidate in the field, and immediately walked it back.
Then, desperate to head off concerns about the would-be candidate’s advanced age and less-than-adequately woke record on racial issues, his staff floated the idea of Stacey Abrams, the 45-year-old African-American former Georgia gubernatorial candidate, serving as his running mate and campaigning with the head of the ticket long before he’s clinched the nomination. Abrams has made clear she isn’t interested, in part because she may want to run for president herself. That makes the Biden operation look flat-footed and the candidate himself appear desperate to inoculate himself against the predictable charge that he’s out of step with the moral requirements of contemporary progressivism.
In case there was any doubt that it’s this concern that inspired the Abrams trial balloon, at an event in New York City on Tuesday night, Biden addressed the charge that he didn’t treat Anita Hill with sufficient respect by railing bizarrely against "English jurisprudential culture, a white man's culture," which he insisted has "got to change." He also expressed regret and remorse about how the Thomas hearings unfolded, while also skirting responsibility for it : "I wish I could have done something." Predictably, progressive activists were unmollified by this expression of powerlessness from the man who served as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during those hearings.
What awaits us is more of this sloppy, stumbling, bumbling, unintentionally insulting effort to express contrition for Biden’s past failings. It’s going to be ugly, it’s going to be boring, and it’s bound to drag down his currently high poll numbers as soon as he jumps into the race and begins attracting the kind of attention and scrutiny that presidential frontrunners always enjoy and endure.
How do we know all of this? Because Biden’s always been a one-man gaffe machine. (That’s one reason his two previous presidential bids went nowhere.) He’s older now and so even more prone to verbal slips. Combine that with the 500-mile ideological minefield that any white man with Biden’s record would have to traverse in order to placate the woke police and we’re left with a near-certain likelihood of an interminable series of mini-scandals, one after another, prompted by awkward, pesky questions about the candidate’s past and his utter incapacity to parry them with even a modicum of deftness. His campaign is bound to fall prey to a terminal case of foot-in-mouth disease.
Biden will apologize. And then apologize again. And then again. Endlessly. Gracelessly. Until he finally gives up and goes home.
Could I be wrong? Might Biden hit his stride on the campaign trail and find a way to effectively dispense with the barrage of hits that are bounds to come his way from the very-online left? Sure, it’s possible. It’s just not at all likely. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and you can’t get a 70-something politician to master a set of skills he never acquired when he was half his age.
Biden is who he is: a man highly unlikely to make it through the gauntlet of the next 14 months in one piece.