Joe Biden might be your favorite wisecracking uncle, but he’s not your Democratic savior for 2020
Joe Biden was an excellent vice president. We loved the Onion version of Biden, we love the Biden-Obama buddy memes. More substantively, it was a wonderful moment when he expressed support for marriage equality ahead of then-President Barack Obama. None of this means that Joe Biden is a good presidential candidate for 2020, and it’s unfortunate that so many prominent people are so intent on promoting him as such. Let’s be clear: a 2020 presidential run is more likely to tarnish Biden’s current legacy than it is to end in victory.
So much of the Biden-boostering clearly comes from the view that what Democrats need to win is a white guy who can kinda pass for working class without being too radical about it. It’s a defensive crouch against the ascendancy of women and people of color, but it’s not just that. We’re also seeing nostalgia for the era that Biden represents. Not just any blue-collar white guy, but one whose cultural references and speech patterns hail from the good old days. But it’s malarkey to think that a successful run as America’s corny wisecracking uncle in the Naval Observatory is going to be enough to overcome Biden’s many, very real issues if he becomes a candidate again.
There’s a reason Joe Biden was not the Democratic presidential nominee in 1988. Does Biden want to end his career by re-associating his name with plagiarism? There’s a reason Joe Biden was not the Democratic presidential nominee in 2008. Actually, there are a lot of reasons—he was never a serious competitor for the nomination. What makes him a competitor now is his association with Obama combined with his status as a white man who radiates folksiness without alienating the wealthy, but that’s not going to be enough to carry him through a campaign given everything else in his record.
Between 1973 and 2009, Biden said and did a lot of problematic stuff in the United States Senate. Does he want the image of himself that replaces the Obama buddy memes in the public mind to be the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings? (Or, worse, does he want to add to the questions about his leadership then? Still worse, how many pictures of him getting handsy with women he’s just met does he want to see circulated?) It’s not just Anita Hill, though. How much does Joe Biden want American voters struggling to get by thinking about his role in the disastrous 2005 bankruptcy bill? Or looking back to his 1970s flip-flop on integration? There’s too much more where that came from for Biden to retain his Obama-era glow through a competitive race.
According to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the reason Biden “has the best case” for the presidency is that “he brings the most of the secret ingredient you need to win for a Democrat, which is credibility.” Credibility here looks an awful lot like a code word for penis, since Cuomo was responding to a question about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, but to the extent that Biden has any unusual amount of non-genital credibility, it will be shattered into a thousand pieces the minute he is actually a candidate in a competitive race. That will be sad. He should protect himself and us from that disappointment.