Pity good ol’ Joe Biden. He’s eager at last to master the hounds, to impose order in the kennel. He wants to encourage the amiable golden retrievers, collies and cocker spaniels in his care, and he has to throw a little raw meat to the rabid pit bulls. How can he do that and escape with his life, too?
The ex-veep opened his campaign for the Democratic nomination the other day in Philadelphia, “the city of brotherly love,” and revealed his scheme to “unify America” with an all-out assault, in the name of brotherly love, on the leader of the other half of America. It’s an unusual strategy, “bringing America together” by driving it apart.
The former vice president kicked off his White House bid with an impassioned call for fairness and equality in the country, urging voters to put an end to the mean-spirited pettiness and partisan squabbles that have made Americans angry and dispirited.
“This nation needs to come together,” he told a crowd of 5,000 raucous supporters. “Our president is the divider-in-chief,” and “if the American people want a president to add to our division, to lead with a clenched fist, closed hand and a hard heart, to demonize opponents and spew hatred, they don’t need me. They’ve got Donald Trump.” This was a curious enough strategy, bewailing the demonization of an opponent by demonizing an opponent.
But like politicians of both right and left, good ol’ Joe doesn’t necessarily mean the harsh things he says. He doesn’t always take what he says seriously, and you shouldn’t, either. In the first of his three races for president, he ran as the son of a Welsh coal miner, having picked up a copy of a speech by a British politician who really was the son of a Welsh coal miner, and without paying close attention to the printed page, that’s what he said he was, too. Father and son had actually never been closer to Cardiff or the Vale of Glamorgan than Scranton or Wilkes-Barre.
If you really want to pose as a native son, Joe, next time you’re campaigning in Wales you could tell them that you’re from the lyrical village of your innocent youth, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, which means “St. Mary’s church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the fierce whirlpool of St. Tysilio of the red cave.” It’s the longest-named railway station in the world, and you’ll never learn to pronounce it properly, but you can fake it.
Joe is running as the man with the deepest-blue collar of anybody in the race, the only man who can beat the blue-collar billionaire, but he nevertheless represents the very establishment of the elites that Trump voters defeated in 2016. “Maybe he’s a little bit establishment,” one Democrat told a French correspondent at the Philadelphia rally, “but he was always good ol’ Joe from Scranton. “I think he’ll be tough for Trump to fight.”
Joe has opened up a huge lead in the polling among Democrats, ranging at 39 percent by RealClearPolitics, the polls aggregator, which swamps the 16 percent of Bernie Sanders, his nearest party rival. No other Democrat, neither Pocahontas nor the gay caballero from South Bend, though Mayor Pete won a standing ovation at a Fox News debate, which may not be such an encouraging sign in the Democratic melee. Considering the source, better a little booing.
Good ol’ Joe has so far kept the more or less polite Democrats reassured with broad strokes for nice folks, but soon he’ll have to say real things about real issues, health care, wages, the changing weather, and above all the immigration chaos on the border that almost no one any longer denies. “If you want to know what the first and most important plan in my climate proposal is,” he said the other day, “Beat Trump, Beat Trump.” Cute, but sooner or later, he’ll have to get specific, or there will be heck to pay in the kennel where the rabid rule.
He will always pivot to his meaningless crusade to unify the nation by paying tribute to peace and Delaware decorum, and in the next breath decry Donald Trump, who “embraces dictators like Putin and Kim Jong-un.” He can’t do it by denigrating the Trump economy with silly and semi-cute remarks like “President Trump inherited an economy from the Obama-Biden administration that was given to him, just like he inherited everything else in his life.”
Good ol’ Joe is expected to bring home the Midwestern white, male, blue-collar folk who fled to the Republicans four years ago. But white, male, blue-collared folk may not be as dumb now as good ol’ Joe thinks. A cocker spaniel could tell him that.
• Wesley Pruden is the editor in chief emeritus of The Times.