Joe Biden? Really?

Joe Biden is affable, experienced, and believes in the dignity of a hard-earned paycheck. But does that make him the best choice for Democrats in 2020? (Photo Credit: World Economic Forum/Manuel Lopez/Flickr/CC BY-NC-SA-2.0)

According to a recent poll of 455 likely Democratic caucus-goers from the state of Iowa, Joe Biden is their top choice for president in 2020 at 32%. Bernie Sanders comes in second at 19%, followed by Beto O’Rourke at 11%. Elizabeth Warren (8%) and Kamala Harris (5%) round out the top five, assuming you don’t include “Not sure” as part of this ranking.

Observers will point out this is a very early poll. For the sake of an example, Jeb Bush had a comfortable lead at this point in 2014—and we all know how that eventually turned out.

Nevertheless, these poll results hint at what Democratic supporters’ priorities might be leading up to 2020. With Biden leading the pack, political experience and a perceived ability to stand up to Donald Trump appear to be key factors in voters’ decision-making process. In the language of the poll, they prefer a “seasoned hand” to that of a “newcomer.”

As a reaction to Trump, this predilection for the former vice president is understandable. Trump, the outlandish outsider, has demonstrated what damage a neophyte with a questionable temperament for the job can do. That said, is Biden really who the Dems want to represent them in the next presidential election?

If you ask Frank Bruni, New York Times columnist, the answer is heck, no. Bruni, despite liking Biden, urges him not to run for president. Here’s Bruni’s opening salvo from a recent column:

You’d agree, wouldn’t you, that Consideration No. 1 in choosing a Democratic nominee in 2020 is making sure that the person is best positioned to defeat Donald Trump? That nothing else comes close? Then what would you say if I told you that we should put our chips on a man who failed miserably at two previous campaigns for the nomination, the first one back in 1988, a year before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born? And that when he applied the lessons from that debacle to his second bid two decades later, he did no better, placing fifth in the Iowa caucuses, getting fewer than 1 percent of the state’s delegates, and folding his tent before even the New Hampshire primary?

And that he spent nearly 45 years in Washington, a proper noun that’s a dirty word in presidential politics? And that his record includes laws and episodes that are reviled — rightly — by the female and black voters so integral to the Democratic Party? And that, on Election Day, he would be 77, which is 31 years older than Bill Clinton was in 1992, 30 years older than Barack Obama was in 2008, and a complete contradiction of the party’s success over the past half-century with relatively youthful candidates?

You’d tell me that I was of unsound mind. Well, Joe Biden’s boosters are.

But tell us how you really feel, Frank. In analyzing the general election prospects of a man who sounds a lot like he’s about to run for president, Bruni is critical of the pitch Biden is making for a Democratic Party nomination. Which, at this point, mostly amounts to him touting his qualifications. Hillary Clinton is supremely qualified for the top political office in the country based on her experience. Donald Trump is, well, not. But it was Trump who won the 2016 election. In this political climate, experience might not be all that it’s cracked up to be.

This is not to say that Biden isn’t a great guy at heart. As Bruni feels, he’s a devoted political servant and family man, as well as someone with the inner strength and the requisite knowledge to match his aspired role. He’s “real.” 

Still, there are some not-so-savory elements of Biden’s political career. Though he has since apologized for not being able to “do more for” her—Biden has been criticized for his part in questioning Anita Hill during the 1991 confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas. His questions have been characterized as reflecting a remarkable tone-deafness, and while he avers he always believed Hill’s testimony, his demeanor at the time suggests otherwise.

As Bruni underscores, Biden also merits scrutiny/criticism for his ties to the banking industry and support of a 2005 bill that made it more difficult for consumers to win protection under bankruptcy, as well as his role in drafting a 1994 crime bill that some analysts and activist groups allege did damage to communities of color and helped fuel America’s mass incarceration problem.

On the latter, Biden has repeatedly defended the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The victims of institutional racism and the war on drugs, however, might take issue with this badge of honor.

Plus, and with all due respect, he’s an old white dude. This isn’t necessarily a disqualifying factor; look at how popular Bernie Sanders is with young people. Still, as a D.C. insider who doesn’t signal a move of the Democratic Party in a new, progressive direction, he’s a questionable choice in their bid to unseat Trump from the Oval Office. 

Bruni closes with these thoughts on Biden’s prospective candidacy:

He has said that he’ll decide in the next month or two whether to run — whether he’s willing to spend that much time away from his grandchildren. For their sake, I hope he stays on the sidelines. For our sake, too.

As a Bernie supporter from last election, I’m definitely biased in his favor relative to Biden. But when ol’ Amtrak Joe would seem to be a poor choice next to others in the field with less experience, too, I tend to agree with Mr. Bruni.


In deference to Joe Biden and responding to Frank Bruni’s dismissal of his earlier runs, while his past presidential campaigns have fizzled out, Biden stands a better chance now that he has more name recognition having served as vice president. Assuming Hillary Clinton doesn’t run in 2020—and that’s no guarantee, mind you—he’s got name recognition and probably would have the backing of establishment Democrats should he survive the nomination process.

I also don’t think Biden’s age is the problem that some make it out to be. Sure, people may see young progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the future of the Democratic Party, and deservedly so. (If you think like Matthew Yglesias, you might be ready to usher her into the White House, but let’s wait until she actually is of age and has served a day in the House of Representatives, shall we?)

In the meantime, the Dems have an election to win and it’s not as if people like Biden and Bernie Sanders have serious physical or mental health concerns that would prevent them from serving. Age is just a number, and what matters most are a person’s ideals and capability for the office, not their gender, race, religion, or any other identifying characteristic.

Saying Biden is recognizable and competent enough to be president of the United States is not an endorsement, though. In a piece from 2017 reacting to a blog post Biden wrote for his namesake institute at the University of Delaware about choosing a future that “puts work first,” Bill Scher, writing for POLITICO, discusses Biden’s platform being essentially a rejection of populism, whether the kind exploited by Donald Trump and his ilk in their pitch to Republican voters or the sort championed by Bernie Sanders as a means of saving the Democratic Party, well, from itself.

Scher’s piece is a lengthy one, and merits a full read, if nothing else, for its dissection of Biden’s views on universal basic income, Silicon Valley executives, corporations, and the “dignity” of one’s work. His closing remarks, however, do nicely sum up Biden’s strengths and his potential weaknesses ahead of a probable presidential run:

With all this in mind, there’s one major question left that Biden has to consider before he runs: Does he have a shot? He’s an old white man at a time when many Democratic voters are hungry for fresh faces. However, he’s also a commanding presence who would likely enter a field overcrowded with rookies stepping on one another’s populist toes. And he’s just as comfortable talking about the old days at the local auto show as he is embracing multiculturalism. He can seamlessly shift from celebrating the American worker to confronting the scourge of domestic violence (as he touts one of his big Senate legacies, the Violence Against Women Act) to the importance of LGBT rights (and reminding how he publicly nudged President Obama on gay marriage.)

If nothing else, Biden has a path. It’s a path that diverges from left-wing and right-wing populism; a path that seeks partnership between workers and corporations, unity across racial and gender lines, and reverence for higher education and the idea that you can work your way to a better life if given the right tools.

But walking that path will require a few more signature policy ideas, and a whole lot of Scranton charm. If anyone can make everyone believe he’s on their side—and in turn, erase many of the divides wracking the American electorate—it may well be the fast-talkin’, back-slappin’, gaffe-makin’ God-love-him Uncle Joe.

Biden is indeed someone with working class appeal, whether or not you buy into the authenticity of his image. This aspect of Amtrak Joe’s character is undoubtedly why Barack Obama chose him as his running mate. At a time when the backing of working-class whites, traditionally a bastion of Democratic Party support, is far from a guarantee with job losses affecting the manufacturing sector and union membership on the apparent decline, Biden’s ability to connect on a personal level with voters in crucial swing states is not to be undersold.

All the same, Biden, at least at present, lacks a big idea that can inspire across voting blocs. Repugnant as many of us may find it, Trump rode the vision of a wall at the Mexican border to electoral victory—and appears prepared to shut down the federal government over this issue, still insisting to anyone who will listen that Mexico will pay for it. Simply put, Biden will need more, on top of a credible, complete platform amid a crowded Democratic field.

Accordingly, and to bring Bruni’s objections back into the mix, Joe Biden is a risky proposition for Democrats leading up to 2020, with or without a signature policy proposal and especially if he keeps touting 90s-era crime legislation that critics increasingly see as problematic as views evolve and conflicts between groups persist. Even as he has his share of admirers, it may be better for his legacy, the Democratic Party, and all of us if he passes on a 2020 presidential bid.

Beat the Press: America’s News Media Under Attack (Literally)

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“I will literally slap anyone who asks me a question about our botched raid in Yemen.” (Photo Credit: JStone/Shutterstock.com)

For better or worse, I seldom give updates to specific stories I reference in my posts. Usually, I’m more concerned with the overarching theme as opposed to the nuts and bolts of these events; if you want the news, Lord knows there are any number of services that can give you up-to-the-minute headlines and analysis. Besides this, I tend to be more forward-oriented in my thinking. Again, this may be for better or for worse; while this gives me direction, I may lack for a more historical perspective, a notion aided by my relative inexperience in these matters. In this instance, however, I’ll make an exception, because it’s relevant. Remember when last we left Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte, who managed to defeat upstart Democratic challenger Ron Quist despite, you know, body-slamming a reporter on the eve of the special election? Gianforte was arrested and charged based on his conduct—alas, insincere apologies don’t suffice in the court of law—but after pleading guilty to the assault, Gianforte was sentenced only to 40 hours of community service, a $385 fine, and some anger management classes. A figurative slap on the wrist after grabbing Ben Jacobs, reporter for the Guardian, by the neck with both hands, slamming him to the ground, and proceeding to punch him. Oh, and after a civil settlement with Jacobs and an admission of fabricating his account that the reporter was the aggressor. That Greg Gianforte—what a standup guy after assaulting someone and blaming him for it first. I’m sure he’ll make a great representative for the people of Montana.

Ben Jacobs, to his credit, says he hopes to one day interview Gianforte and also expects him to be a “strong advocate for a free press and for the First Amendment.” Not sure if he’s trolling Greg Gianforte by saying as much, but dude just got assaulted, so let him have his moment, OK? Still, it’s not all puppy dogs and sunshine in the aftermath. For one, Jacobs correctly pointed to the idea that Gianforte initially lied about the affair in a “defamatory public statement.” In some respects, this may even be considered worse than the physical abuse, and certainly, a case of adding insult to injury. But Jacobs also saw his incident as one in a series of disturbing encounters between political candidates and the press, and used a platform he never sought to address this unnerving trend. From Jacobs’ statement to the court:

If this incident were simply between myself and the Congressman-elect, that would be one thing. But it’s had national ramifications on our politics and our culture. While I have no doubt that actions like these were an aberration for Congressman-elect Gianforte personally, I worry that, in the context of our political debate, they have become increasingly common. In recent years, our discourse has grown increasingly rancorous and increasingly vile. This needs to stop.

There will always be fundamental political disagreements in our society. However, these need not become personal and certainly should never become violent. I just hope this court’s decision can send a strong message about the necessity of civil discourse in our country, the important role of the free press and the need to help heal our political system.

“This needs to stop.” Hmm, quite a different tone conveyed by the likes of Ben Jacobs as opposed to, say, the putative leader of the free world. If people like Jacobs are aiming to be the angel on the shoulder of political discourse in the United States of America and abroad, then Donald Trump is the unrepentant orange-faced devil on the other shoulder, stoking the fires of discontentment among his supporters and his detractors alike, and setting his crosshairs on the mere concept of the free press. In just a short time as President, Trump has exhibited a pathological willingness to not only throw people close to him under the metaphorical bus, but to get behind the wheel and grind them into the pavement for good measure. The media, derisively referred to by the catch-all “fake news,” is a special project for Pres. Trump, particularly because an unbiased and inquisitive press is his worst nightmare. His dealings with Russia, his defrauding of investors, his umpteen ethical conflicts, his unwillingness to release his tax returns, his past degrading comments about women, his lies upon lies upon lies—I could devote an entire post to the topic of Trump and his administration’s malfeasances, but that strikes me as not only relentlessly aggravating, but boring as shit, too—these are details that eat away at his credibility, his vague air of mystique as the consummate deal-maker, his cult of personality. So, what does Donald Trump do because he must? Undermine the institution that possesses the greatest threat to this identity, an identity built on exaggeration, fabrication, falsehood, and misdirection. Thus, the mainstream media becomes “fake news.” The “enemy of the American people.” Hell, Greg Gianforte wasn’t committing a crime and lying about it to try to save face—he was doing us a valuable service! That man is a goddamn hero!

To my knowledge, Donald Trump hasn’t physically battered a member of the press. (For those Trump resisters among us, no, even this probably wouldn’t get him impeached at the rate we’re going.) Then again, he has all but undressed a representative of the news media during a press conference—recall his shouting at CNN’s Jim Acosta, referring to his employer as “fake news,” and refusing to answer his question. Even if we’re relegating the discussion to instances of bodily injury, though, while Trump may not be the one pulling the trigger, as many would assert, he has repeatedly loaded the gun, cocked the hammer, put it in the hands of someone with the intent to do harm, and pointed him or her in the direction of the target.

See, Ben Jacobs isn’t the only one who sees a danger in the making in the tone set by #45 vis-à-vis the press. As Paul Farhi, writing for The Washington Post, details, press advocates view Donald Trump’s rhetoric and incidents like the Gianforte-Jacobs encounter as interrelated, and as you might expect, there are plenty of instances of aggression against journalists to go around. Farhi recounts four of these recent examples of confrontations between politicians and reporters: 1) Nathaniel Herz, reporter for the Alaska Dispatch News, was slapped by state Sen. David Wilson as he was trying to question him in the state capitol; 2) CQ Roll Call‘s John Donnelly was pinned against a wall by security guards when trying to question FCC chair Ajit Pai and commissioner Michael O’Rielly; 3) Dan Heyman of Public News Service was handcuffed and arrested trying to get a response from Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Kellyanne Conway; and 4) the Greg Gianforte episode.

These all occurred within the span of a month, no less, and this quartet doesn’t even include events like Corey Lewandowski, then-campaign-manager for Donald Trump, grabbing and bruising the arm of former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields when she tried to ask the Republican presidential nominee a question, or Michael Grimm, state representative from New York, threatening to throw NY1 reporter Michael Scotto off a balcony and break him in half “like a boy.” These are the sorts of happenings that were rarer once upon a time and should be rarer across the American political landscape—and yet they are shockingly and unsettlingly common in our present recollection. This is what happens when you say that members of the news media are among the most dishonest people on Earth and publicly call on them to be jailed. Lock her up! Lock them up! Never mind that our jails are overcrowded! Nothing says “democracy” and “freedom” like putting folks behind bars!

Arguing and providing “alternative facts” against the clear visual evidence the size of his inauguration crowd paled in comparison to Barack Obama’s. Barring journalists from events at his various resorts. Discussing effectively evicting the press corps from the White House. Insulting various news outlets on Twitter and to their face. Suggesting The New York Times and other purveyors of the news have been inciting protests against him. Traveling without reporters on trips outside the White House in violation of protocol. This is the state of journalism under President Donald J. Trump, and that there is neither a greater sense of solidarity among members of the press to stand up for their beaten and berated comrades, nor that much of a sense of disgust or outrage from the American public when these scenarios do play out, is—ahem—some scary shit. Granted, media outlets are jockeying for ratings and subscriptions and clicks, and overall, there has been an erosion of confidence within the public concerning various institutions. Even so, the war on the media and on exercise of free speech without fear of rebuke or threat of violence perpetrated by #45 is particularly frightening because it is not what we would consider a hallmark of an ideal democracy, let alone America’s brand of democracy.

With this in mind, while not merely to overstate the case of Trump and Co. murdering the First Amendment, and while, relatively speaking, the state of reporting in the United States of America is still superior to that of any number of countries, it still may be instructive to take a gander at the situations in some of those more restrictive nations and begin to comprehend what Trump’s actions and rhetoric, if left unchecked, could do the freedom of the press in the U.S. At the very least, this should help convey the sense of importance of upholding the journalistic latitude members of the news media are currently afforded. Back in January, Olga Khazan, writing for The Atlantic, analyzed Pres. Trump’s leadership style both in terms of historical analogs and other present-day paradigms marked by a restrictiveness, if not a downright hostility, toward members of the press. On the historical front, Khazan referenced a study conducted by political science professor Kirk Hawkins at BYU of over 100 current and former world leaders across more than 70 countries. Within the study, which looked at leaders defined as “populists”—”charismatic leaders who portrayed the world as a clash between a downtrodden ‘people’ and a conspiring elite”—and spanned the period from 2000 to the present, Hawkins found that the longer these types of figures are in power, the more freedom of the press tends to decline. Thus, for the moment, someone like Trump calling the news the enemy of the American people/the “opposition” and specific media outlets “garbage” is still uncommon, and for some, even patently laughable. Over the long haul, however? Trump’s fixation on the media’s desire to engage in a “witch hunt” against him (a bit of the, ahem, pot calling the kettle black, but you know—that’s our Donald), to his most ardent supporters, may be a rallying cry to defend his honor. Hey, he’s already got Republican figures such as Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich in his corner. Who’s to say others won’t join in the fray, incensed by how the President is being treated so “unfairly?”

As for current challenges faced by journalists in countries known for suppression of the free flow of information, Olga Khazan relies on anecdotes from reporters who have met with adversity in such foreign lands, and who perhaps were not afforded the same courtesy and protections traditionally enjoyed by members of the news media in America. Ways in which members of the press have been intimidated and outright threatened include being arrested and jailed, held at gunpoint by gangs sympathetic to the populist government, or simply fired, in the case of state-controlled media. When the specter of violence is not the modus operandi, stall tactics may suffice; in China and Russia, for instance, reporters often only have access to officials via a fax—and that is liable to go unanswered, to boot. Through their struggles to access information, Khazan notes, these reporters have, through necessity, come up with some pretty ingenuous ways of gaining access to begin with. I’ll spare you the details, but the point is this: American journalists might learn a thing or two about trying to do their jobs in the age of President Trump. As is abundantly clear, the availability and candor of politicians at every level of government is far from a guarantee. For that matter, the same applies for these reporters’ safety.


The notion of a press under attack by politicians both here and abroad takes on added significance in light of recent events, specifically that of the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise, Majority Whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, while practicing for a congressional baseball game. At this writing, Scalise was yet in critical condition, but improving. A lot of commentary has been made on talk shows, on social media, and otherwise concerning the idea that Rep. Scalise and others were assaulted by James Hodgkinson, a Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer. A lot of it, unfortunately, has not been good. Outlets like The New York Times and CNN wasted little time making the connection between Sanders and this act of violence. You saw those leftists threaten to burn the building down at the Nevada Democratic Party Convention in the primary season! They’re a bunch of loose cannons! If they all had guns, who knows what havoc they might try to wreak in the name of socialism! Just as all Muslims are not terrorists, not all Sanders supporters have a latent bloodlust lurking deep down in their psyches. Also, as usual, you had the familiar talking points about gun control. He was deranged and should’ve never had a gun. Maybe if everyone had a gun there at the field, this could have been avoided. Really, we need to address the issue of mental health before we talk about gun control. Stop. This is not a forum for the merits and demerits of gun law reform, though this is an important subject, nor is it a discussion of mental health, though this is also an important subject. Hodgkinson supported Bernie and had a gun. He could’ve been a Hillary supporter. He could have been wielding a knife or throwing rocks.

The who and how, I would argue, don’t matter nearly as much as the why or even the what. “What,” as in, “What the hell is going on here?” This violence levied against elected officials is to be condemned regardless of political affiliation, but I see the attacks on the media and the attack on Steve Scalise as two sides of the same bloody coin. When anger, hate, and mistrust pervade our political discourse, fueling the fire of discord, it is only natural that this blaze continues to consume everything in its path. Anger begets anger. Hate begets hate. Mistrust begets mistrust. And yes, violence begets violence—I firmly believe that. Sure, it would be irrational to say an event like the assault on Ben Jacobs caused the shooting of Scalise. These are isolated events. And yet, they seem to come from the same place, spiritually speaking. In the Trump era, unless you believe what the President is selling—and this requires more and more ideological/moral gymnastics as we go along—I feel as if there is no true happiness. There is anger, there is despair, there is embarrassment, there is fear, there is sadness—and only temporary relief when something like the travel ban is struck down. As one of my friends from a separate chapter of Our Revolution put the feeling, it’s like being in a nightmare every bleeping day without being able to wake up from it. Donald Trump is President of the United States of America. There is nothing we can do about it. May God have mercy on all our souls.

On this sobering note, if nothing we do matters concerning Donald Trump’s impeachment—and if you ask me, that’s not even all that great a prize considering Mike Pence would succeed him—does this mean we should abandon all hope and do nothing? Of course not. There are any number of causes in which to invest oneself as part of the Resistance, replete with lawmakers to petition and marches to attend. Fighting for the sanctity of the First Amendment, and materially supporting journalists and the publications they represent, too, are such an issue around which to rally. Support your local newspaper, especially if you’re like me and take issue with the accountability of the likes of The New York Times and The Washington Post (and they are probably the best of the bunch!). Champion the value of good investigative journalism, and share informative pieces with people you know. Especially, um, that aunt or uncle who’s a registered Republican and feels the need to argue with you on whether or not climate change exists. You know the one.

Simply put, information is power, and to fail support a free press, a key cog in a truly democratic society, is an abdication of your responsibility to participate as an American. Moreover, it’s exactly what the knuckleheads in government want, in particular, Trump: for you to become disengaged from what is going on so that they can less visibly advance their agenda which favors donors and other special interests before authentically representing you. The Post has more recently adopted the slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness.” It may seem melodramatic to some, but I, for one, agree wholeheartedly. There is a dark cloud hanging over the state of journalism and political coverage today, one that has led to hostility and violence. If we do not stand with the news media as they continue to come under attack, that cloud stands to blot out the sun completely.