Opinion: Can an old dog like Biden learn new tricks?

Gage Skidmore - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

On May 22, candidate Joe Biden appeared on The Breakfast Club, a popular morning talk show hosted by Charlamagne, DJ Envy and Angela Yee. He said to media personality Charlamagne Tha God, “If you have a problem figuring out if you’re for Trump or me, you ain’t black.” Not long afterward, Biden issued an apology. The same day, a different interview aired on CNBC. When asked whether he would govern like a progressive, Biden answered confidently, “I’m prepared to say that I have a record of over 40 years and that I’m going to beat Joe Biden…” Later in the interview, Biden asserted that healthcare is a right, but he does not support Medicare-for-all.

Joe Biden wants to be friends with everyone and nobody at the same time. Unlike Trump, he is willing to wear a mask. He has been labeled a moderate by the left. Yet, the former vice president appears to be running as a progressive FDR-like figure. The American economy is in a vulnerable state, perhaps the worst condition in its history. A flurry of attack-ads, criticisms, accusations, denunciations and repudiations (from both the left and right) have not proven to be the death knell for Biden. He alone will contend with Trump, the White House’s galloping fascist.

Joe Biden has a history of bipartisanship, a strong suit that could prove decisive in his presidential bid. Biden looks the part of a career politician, but to me, he lacks the sagacity of an elder statesman. His long political history includes stringent relationships with divisive figures, much like Strom Thurmond. A 50-year South Carolina senator starting in 1953, Thurmond was a decorated veteran of World War II, but also a segregationist Dixiecrat who opposed the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, filibustered for 24-hours against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 and eventually became a republican while working for Barry Goldwater’s presidential campaign of 1964. When Thurmond died in 2003, then-Senator Biden delivered his eulogy.

In his later years, Thurmond championed the War on Drugs alongside Biden with the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 during the Reagan administration, enacting 100:1 sentencing for crack and cocaine. Both he and Biden were exponents of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 during the Clinton administration, worsening mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex. Since that time, Biden has voiced regrets on the disproportionate persecution of Blacks and Latinos due to policies like the three-strike rule and increased minimum sentencing. Not to mention the racialization of narcotics.

There are strong contradictions in Biden’s public persona and voting history when contrasted with his 2020 platform. However, his 40-year career is a long one, riddled with moments of folly, bravery and uncanny realpolitik. In 1987, during his first presidential campaign, Joe Biden sparked controversy when he was caught plagiarizing a speech delivered by the leader of the British Labour Party, Neil Kinnock.

“Why am I the first Kinnock in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Why is Glenys the first woman in her family in a thousand generations to be able to get to university? Was it because all our predecessors were thick?”

“… why is it that Joe Biden is the first in his family ever to go to a university? Why is it that my wife, who is sitting out there in the audience, is the first in her family to ever go to college? Is it because our fathers and mothers were not bright? Is it because I’m the first Biden in a thousand generations to get a college and a graduate degree that I was smarter than the rest?”

This mistake was quickly accounted for by Senator Biden; in an apologetic response, Biden promised he would attribute the quote to Kinnock in the future. The Democrat from Delaware ended his bid with hopes to run again in the future — and he would. In 2008, Joe Biden ran again for the presidency — but after capturing less than one percent of the Iowa caucus, a young up-and-comer named Barack Obama chose Biden as his running mate. Joe Biden had since become friends with Neil Kinnock, who was cordially invited to their 2009 inauguration. Joe Biden was a steadfast civil servant in the Obama administration, a complete turnaround from his prior association with Southern conservatives.

It is 2020, and now that the economy is in death-overdrive, the United States needs a competent leader to steer the ship. Biden is not that competent leader. The neoliberal corporatist does not have the political courage to win over conservatives on key issues like universal healthcare, free college, debt forgiveness, prison reforms, so on and so forth. Biden was selected by Obama in 2008 precisely because of his center-lane, Clintonian veneer. The moderate who could find the middle path to the middle path.

As of late, Biden is under constant scrutiny for both his verbal-gaffes and non-verbal idiosyncrasies. Steven Pinker, Harvard professor of psychology, said on CNN,

“Look what happened to poor Joe Biden. He came of age in an era in which politicians were supposed to ‘press the flesh,’ to show that they were not aloof, that they were close to their constituents. Now, the rules have kind of changed, especially when it comes to a man and a woman — and he’s been accused of being too handsy… caught in time as the rules change.”

Notwithstanding Pinker’s relationship with late pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, it is resoundingly true that Biden is an artifact of the 20th century. His inability to adapt to social norms and instill confidence in his supporters is exemplary of his frenetic and unbothered nature. The overlooked Tara Reade allegations are consistent with a video history of Joe Biden getting touchy-feely with women in particular. In my opinion, this toxic behavior is woefully lacking in respect and empathy towards women.

No, Joe Biden is not the antithesis to Donald Trump. I have my political agenda, and it could not be more contrary to either candidate. Yet, we must examine seriously what it is we stand to gain or lose when voting. Yes, Biden is an improvement; there is an existential threat to humanity in the climate crisis, and of course, a democratic candidate will battle for environmentalism. Although, it would be shortsighted to concede policy footholds on healthcare or student-debt to the likes of Mitch McConnell. Biden alone will not deliver anything to society, as he is far too old and disheveled to be a unifying force. It is simply a matter of upholding liberal democracy in the United States without abandoning all hope entirely.