Joe Biden's campaign is going to be a parody of itself
Here comes everybody. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris and Beto and Mayor Pete and 15 others and, finally, Joe Biden. CNN reports that Biden will be formally announcing the launch of his presidential campaign today with an online video. Then, Axios tells us, he'll give a speech about "the moment" and "the kind of leadership" we need — i.e., his. Next he's going to a fundraiser with the executive vice president of Comcast.
You can't make this stuff up. Biden is said to have already begun making private calls to donors, most of whom are probably only too glad to pony up for what is being called a "third Obama term." Does anyone care about the fact that Biden has no discernible political agenda or ideas apart from his conviction that he is simply the man for the job? Does it matter that he has been in politics long enough to hold positions on whether gay people should be allowed to work for the federal government (his answer was no)? Shouldn't we all be a bit creeped out by his nonchalant dismissal of his own hair-sniffing antics as a desire to "connect" with people and by his bizarre sense of entitlement to our nation's highest office?
Biden's candidacy is going to be a parody of itself. Get your bingo cards ready for the debates, folks. He's going to talk about being "a little rough around the edges," about how "times have changed," about how he admires young people for their "energy" about things like the Green New Deal and Medicare-for-all but that he's "seen a few things" in his time. He knows the difference between what sounds like a good idea and what's practical. He cares about doing what's right, but also about getting things done, even if it means "reaching" — no pun intended — "across the aisle." Has he made a few mistakes over the years? Yeah, sure, and he owns up to them. But he knows better now. He's "willing to listen," maybe even "to learn." Did I say to bring your bingo cards? Make that a barf bag.
The unfortunate thing is that this is all genius. Incredibly stupid, cringe-inducing, fourth-rate Dick Morris triangulating drivel — but genius nevertheless. It's exactly what older Democratic voters, especially the ones who feel nostalgic about Obama's eight years in office, want to hear. Uncle Joe is "someone who has what it takes to make a great president."
It might just work, too. A lot will depend on how hard the other 2020 candidates are willing to go after Biden. The old adage about what you shouldn't do when you come at the king applies here. If someone like Kamala Harris can successfully turn Biden's record against him — without drawing too much attention to her own shortcomings in the more recent past — good for her. But if she and the other would-be nominees attack him as a racist, sexist handsy old fogey and he ends up being the nominee anyway, they might as well say goodbye to their futures in centrist liberal circles. There is a reason Jeb Bush did not become secretary of education in the Trump White House — and why Paul Ryan was cut out of the president's decision-making process long before he announced his retirement as speaker of the House.
A principled — if to his base no doubt infuriating — insistence on sticking to the issues is what prevented Bernie Sanders from campaigning as effectively as he could have against Hillary Clinton in 2016. In 2020 the field is larger. Bernie doesn't need to compete with Biden for votes except at the margins. But ignoring him would still be unwise. If anything, as the obvious frontrunner among already declared candidates this time around, Sanders might be the only person with the political authority to punch down at Biden. He has nothing to lose and everything to gain by heaping scorn on Biden as yesterday's candidate, a shill for big banks and other corporate interests, a buffoonish throwback with nothing to contribute to American politics. Biden would almost certainly respond in kind by painting a caricature of Sanders as a dangerous commie thug who probably wants to ban cars and deodorant and turn all of our major cities into habitats for the blackpoll warbler — but how many people would be receptive to this criticism who haven't made up their minds about Bernie ages ago?
The fight against Biden is not going to be won by droning on about your 15-point plan for green energy. You don't beat dummies with ideas.