The Candidacy of Joe Biden Gerry O'Shea
Electability is the core driving force of democratic politics. In the final analysis winning at the ballot box is all that matters. Losers tell election stories; winners wield political power.
Ask George McGovern or Al Gore or John McCain - three fine candidates but none of them was successful on their big day at the polls. The principled McGovern was pigeonholed as supporting a far-left agenda and he only carried one state, Massachusetts, against the hawkish Nixon in 1972. Twenty eight years later the talented but straitlaced then vice-president Al Gore was leading in a close race with Bush 43, but he made the mistake of distancing himself from his boss, the lascivious but well-liked Bill Clinton, and he lost by a few hundred votes. In 2008 John McCain, a war hero with the common touch, was favored against a first-term black senator from Illinois until he chose a political airhead from Alaska as a running mate and he lost.
How electable is Joe Biden? All the recent polls show him defeating President Trump handily if the election was held today. Some of the other candidates in the Democratic field also win in a match-up with the current incumbent but by just a few percentage points, within the margin of error.
The former vice-president ran twice for his party's nomination but wasn't even close to succeeding on either occasion. He will be 77 years old in November and thus, if elected, he would be the oldest occupant ever entering the White House, taking over from a man who is just a few years his junior and deemed medically obese.
At this stage, he easily leads against the twenty or so other aspirants for the Democratic nomination in polls that show him with strong support in the African-American community. Of course, the polling numbers will change and may show in a few months that a Booker or a Warren or a Harris has taken over the front position.
Still Joe Biden is a formidable candidate but one who is prone to blunders. Already he boasted in a speech that he was able to work in the past with avowed segregationist Senators Eastland from Mississippi and Talmadge from Georgia to get some legislation passed, mentioning that Eastland called him "son" rather than "boy," presumably as a mark of acceptance by a man who believed that black people are inherently inferior to whites. Understandably, his opponents pointed to his words as an indication that he is a man from another era, past his time for the big leadership job.
Again, when Senator Kamala Harris from California questioned his opposition to busing in the 1970's, he took umbrage that she would dispute his record and his motives, especially considering her friendship with his son, Beau, who died from a brain hemorrhage in 2015. Commentators from all sides wondered how he could manage a barrage of insults and half-truths from Trump when he showed such a thin skin in dealing with a fairly-minor argument from a party colleague.
He will also have to account for his vote for the invasion of Iraq in 2003. He has apologized for his stand on that vital issue, but it has left a question mark about his analytical skills.
His deplorable treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings for the Supreme Court nearly thirty years ago still rankles with some progressives. He can only hope that time has eased the discomfiture felt by many women at how he chaired that emotional event which ended by sending Justice Thomas, an avid conservative, to the highest court in the land.
Joe Biden's strongest suit can be encapsulated in two words: Barack Obama. He served as his vice president for eight years and was always 100% loyal to him. They worked very well together, the thoughtful and cerebral guy in the Oval Office relying on the sharp political acumen of his right-hand man.
They spoke of their administration as a team effort and they got on better together than any recent pair serving at the top of American politics. Their positive relationship extended to their families, and Michelle Obama in Becoming, her memoir of those hectic days, speaks only in laudatory terms of the Bidens. Evidently they liked each other a lot and the friendship, replete with humor and graciousness, continues.
Barack Obama is revered by Democrats. Over 95% of party members evaluate his administration highly. Independent voters bring his overall approval rating to an impressive number over 60%. The high regard for the former president is accentuated by the widespread perception by most Democrats and by some independent voters that the current man in the Oval Office reveals himself regularly as a crude and incompetent leader lacking any semblance of class, thus boosting his predecessor's image as a man with exceptional gravitas.
Understandably, Biden never fails to highlight the achievements of the Obama-Biden years, which gives him a big advantage over all his opponents. Despite the fact that there are two impressive and well-qualified black senators seeking the nomination, all the polls show that more than 50% of African-American voters opt for the former vice-president.
The biggest issue facing the electorate centers on healthcare. President Trump announced a few months ago that he will have a new and comprehensive plan ready after he is re-elected. At the moment Republicans are hoping that the courts will affirm their contention that the Affordable Care Act(ACA) - better known as Obamacare - is unconstitutional. If this effort is successful, more than 20 million Americans will lose their healthcare policies and insurance companies will again be able to exclude coverage for pre-existing conditions.
This was a major issue in the mid-term elections last November when Democrats won a massive 40 seats previously held by Republicans.
Senators Warren and Sanders favor introducing a Canadian-style medicare-for-all program that will cover everybody. On the other hand Vice-President Biden advocates for expanding the ACA to include a public option, bringing many more people into the insurance net and allowing those who are dissatisfied with their current coverage to choose the the new offering.
The biggest problem with the Warren-Sanders approach centers on the many people who are happy with their present policies. Any suggestion that they would be forced to sign on for the proposed new arrangement could cost the Democrats the election. The pollsters show a strong public preference for expanding the ACA to include a public option, which would be a major step forward and that is Biden's position.
The former vice-president likes to be called "middle class Joe" because of his focus on issues that concern regular workers and their families. Company profits have improved greatly in the last 50 years but workers' wages have remained stagnant. The profits have massively benefited the shareholders and top executives.
Democrats need a plan upfront that mandates worker representation in every boardroom and provides support for strong trade unions to fight for proper employee remuneration. Joe Biden has credibility in union halls and he can lead the charge for the radical changes that are urgently needed in this area.
In the Democratic party primary elections which begin in February Democrats will decide whether they will choose a candidate on the left of the party like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, both highly respected, or will they pick a man hugging the center, Vice-President Biden, for a last hurrah? Or perhaps they could opt for someone else like Mayor Buttigieg or Senator Kamala Harris.
If the national polls continue to show that Joe Biden has the best chance of beating Donald Trump and if his support in the African-American community remains strong, then by this time next year we will be wondering about an impending election of great consequence that will feature two septuagenarians when Trump-Pence face off against Biden and, perhaps, Harris.