Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Joe Biden's Moment

On May 8, 1987, the day Gary Hart was forced to withdraw from the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination campaign in the wake of a sex scandal, ABC News' Peter Jennings asked political commentator Hal Bruno who, among the seven remaining 1988 Democratic candidates for the Presidency, would likely become the front runner in Hart's absence. Bruno scarcely hesitated in answering, "Joe Biden."
Thirty-three years ago today, June 9, 1987, Joe Biden announced that he was a candidate for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination.  At the time Biden embarked on his first bid for the White House, Donald Trump was a boorish New York real estate developer who was just beginning to cultivate a reputation outside his hometown.  Nancy Pelosi was a first-term congresswoman, and Mitch McConnell was a first-term U.S. Senator from Kentucky whose only major achievement was having been elected in an upset.  Anthony Fauci, already Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was waging a fight against a major epidemic - the AIDS crisis.  William Barr was a Washington lawyer.  Bernie Sanders was the mayor of Burlington, Vermont, and many of the supporters of his future presidential campaign hadn't even been born yet.  Beto O'Rourke was a high school student who occasionally wrote nihilistic poetry.  Cell phones were as large as a brick and had retractable antennas.  The Internet had not been made available for civilian use yet, and the only "social media" we had was MTV.  Personal computers were green-screen contraptions used as word processors, and data was stored on removable "floppy discs" that really were floppy.  Twitter founder Jack Dorsey was in fourth grade, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg was three months away from starting kindergarten, and "going digital" referred to buying record albums on compact discs, such as the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, released on CD for the first time eight days before Biden declared his candidacy.
Biden's first bid for the Presidency was derailed by a plagiarism scandal, and he would spend the next twenty years cultivating a record of accomplishment in the Senate before beginning the 2008 electoral season as a presidential candidate for a second time and ending it being elected Barack Obama's Vice President.  The twin failures of his earlier presidential bids suggested that neither time was his moment.  But this past weekend Biden won enough delegates to win the Democratic presidential nomination at last - at the age of 77.  With the country rocked by two major crises - a coronavirus pandemic and institutional racism run amok - Biden finds himself hoping to realize his lifelong ambition to become President of the United States at a time far less settled than 1988, a year of relative prosperity that showed some disturbing undercurrents - such as a budding meteorological phenomenon that would come to be known as climate change, as well as the last battles of a nine-year war in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupiers that would embolden a Saudi militiaman named Osama bin Laden.   This time is even less settled than 2008, the year of a great financial crisis that brought the stock market down 4.4 percent in a single day and almost led to the collapse of the economy.  The year 2020 has been a disaster for America and the world.  Biden, despite his age and his awkwardness, would be forgiven to recall the disparaging words about the Presidency from, of all people, Grover Cleveland, the only U.S. President to serve two nonconsecutive terms.  "My God, what is it about this office that would make anyone want to enter it?"  
A lot has obviously changed since America first learned of Joe Biden the summer of 1987, but as I wrote back in November 2019, Biden hasn't.   Staunchly progressive by 1987 standards, he entered the 2020 campaign viewed as a centrist by people who apparently confused him with Bill Clinton.  His policies and positions were out of step with an increasingly radicalized Democratic base energized by Bernie Sanders, whose ideas only recently became mainstream.   Hoping to restore the country to its time under Obama when he began this third presidential campaign, Biden now plans to embrace the most liberal policy agenda since Franklin Roosevelt, or maybe even Lyndon Johnson, to restore a country wrecked by COVID-19 and racial unrest into a country people can be proud to live in.
He wants to make America great again.
And he's just the guy to do it.  His age signifies wisdom, and his experience in Washington betrays a steady hand.  And as we trudge though what may be the worst year in American history of recent memory - and who knows what 2021 will bring! - that's exactly what we need.  I regret that we never got Martin O'Malley's new leadership the same way Bernie Sanders supporters regret that we won't get a revolution, but old leadership to serve an evolution into a freer and most just society will do just fine. 
This is your moment, Joe Biden.

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