- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2020

What a difference a few months make.

Joseph R. Biden’s top rivals for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination have gone from criticizing the former vice president’s record and vision for the future to casting him as the Superman of empathy — ready to comfort and heal a divided nation.

Jay Inslee is the latest Biden convert, with the Washington governor pivoting away Wednesday from his previous disdain for Mr. Biden’s “middle-ground” approach on climate change to focus instead on what he said was Mr. Biden’s natural ability to connect with people and feel their emotions.

“At this time of great anxiety and suffering, I think you are perfect for the moment to give people comfort and confidence,” Mr. Inslee told the presumptive nominee on the Earth Day-edition of the Biden campaign’s podcast, “Here’s The Deal.”

Mr. Inslee, who pulled the plug on his own bid for the White House last year, said he was impressed when he heard Mr. Biden speak at a memorial service in the governor’s home state honoring soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

“I watched you tell … the story about how the grief that you had in your life has, over time, turned to the joy of memories,” Mr. Inslee said.

“When I talked to those families, that meant a lot to them, and we need someone with that human connection right now in this position and … I just want to tell you I can’t wait until you start providing that to America,” he said.

Christopher P. Borick, a professor of political science and director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said the governor’s comments reflect what many see as a Biden strength — an empathy that helps paper over some of the ideological differences in the Democratic Party.

“Even folks who are not enamored with Biden generally identify him as a decent guy, and that he is empathic and shines in those moments where empathy is valued,” Mr. Borick said.

“If I am Elizabeth Warren on health care or Jay Inslee on climate, you may not be completely aboard with Biden’s policy approach to those issues, but you can much more earnestly and authentically speak to his character,” he said.

Empathy, or at least the perception of empathy, the professor said, also could help Mr. Biden draw a favorable contrast with the tough-talking President Trump.

“Often in times of turmoil and hardship, empathy is elevated as a character trait that people want to see in their leaders, and I think whereas Joe Biden has largely been recognized as someone who has those qualities, the president has struggled on that since he has been in office,” Mr. Borick said.

Empathy has become a must-have in Democratic Party circles.

Former President Barack Obama said empathy was one of the key traits he was hunting for when he was looking to fill seats on the Supreme Court.

Former Bill Clinton also has been praised for his capacity to convince people he understood their common hardships.

“Whether it was comforting mourners at a funeral or talking to a person suffering from an illness, Clinton knew how to convey his empathy,” Colleen J. Shogan, now the director of the David M. Rubenstein National Center for White House History, a private nonprofit group, said in the 39th volume of the Presidential Studies Quarterly. “As president, Clinton’s understanding of African Americans’ plight led him to be described as the ‘first black president.’”

His wife, Hillary Clinton, struggled in this department in 2016.

Whether Mr. Biden can recreate a Bill Clintonesque magic in a no-holds-barred contest with Mr. Trump remains to be seen.

But his former rivals have come around.

On the campaign trail, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts pulled no punches while bashing Mr. Biden’s support of credit card companies and opposition to “Medicare for All.”

These days, the former presidential candidate lauds Mr. Biden for facing personal tragedy — the 1972 car crash that killed his wife and baby daughter and his adult son Beau’s death from brain cancer in 2015 — with “fortitude and grace.

“These experiences animate the empathy he extends to Americans who are struggling — no matter what their story,” Ms. Warren said in her endorsement earlier this month. “Empathy matters, and in this moment of crisis, it is more important than ever that the next president restores America’s faith in good effective government.”

She said those qualities were on display in 2013 when he helped the city of Boston heal after the marathon bombings killed three people and injured dozens more.

“One year to the day after the Boston Marathon bombings tore up bodies and tore up a sense of safety and community, he was here,” Ms. Warren said. “People who had been hurt, people who were afraid, he gave them peace and he gave them grace. I watched it up close.”

Sen. Kamala D. Harris echoed a similar sentiment in her endorsement last month.

“I believe in Joe, I really believe in him and I’ve known him for a long time,” she said in a video announcement. “One of the things we need right now is a leader who really does care about the people and therefore can unify the people.”

That comment marked a bit of a U-turn from the first Democratic debate in July when she suggested Mr. Biden didn’t know what it was like to live in her shoes, was less enamored with his ability to what it is like to stand in something else’s shoes.

She attacked Mr. Biden for being friends with segregationists and opposing federal busing to integrate public schools in the 1970s — a program that she benefited from as a student in California.

“There are moments in history when states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people,” she said at the time, sparking a massive round of applause.

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