Talking Points

Joe Biden's hokey virtue signaling is good politics

Sometimes, virtue signaling is good.

During Thursday night's presidential debate, amid dueling accusations of personal and familial corruption between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden tried to steer the conversation back to the ostensible reason Americans were watching the debate in the first place: To see which candidate would serve their needs and desires best.

"It's not about his family or my family," Biden said. "It's about your family."

It was a great line. Somewhat astonishingly, though, Trump mocked Biden for this assertion. "Typical politician," he grumbled.

Trump wasn't actually wrong. Politicians have been invoking a mythical family making decisions around a dinner table almost since dinner tables were invented. It's a well-worn, even hokey trope that The Simpsons once satirized memorably.

But some tropes are valuable, venerable traditions. By invoking the dinner table, Biden was reminding Americans that governing is more than scandal-mongering, navel gazing and trying to win the day on Fox News. It is about creating the conditions for citizens to survive and even thrive, both as individuals and as a broader community. We vote for candidates — not for them to serve themselves, but to serve us.

Trump suggested that he became president because of his refusal to invoke the dinner table. "I'm not a typical politician," he said. But "typical" is sometimes another word for "normal" — and Biden's chief selling point in this campaign has been a return to normalcy. If the polls are any indication, a lot of Americans are sitting around their dinner tables hoping for just that.