Here’s a question that won’t get asked in Tuesday’s presidential debate: Does Joe really want this? Is his heart truly in the project that the modern Democratic Party has become?
This is a man whose entire adult life has been spent in the embrace of a political culture that is now denounced by the ideological shock troops who drive much of the agenda of his party.
On Planet Biden, somewhere in that America he thinks he still inhabits, Joe is running for president in about 1956, back when he had his first full head of hair, an age when the Democratic Party still regarded white men as human beings rather than patriarchal oppressors and racial supremacists.
(Come to think of it, maybe he did run for president in 1956? It’s easy to lose count. He’s taken more shots at the presidency than your average Molotov cocktail-wielding peaceful protester has taken at a police cruiser in the past few months.)
I actually believe Joe when he says he’s running in part to restore some dignity to national politics. Like many Americans, he’s genuinely repulsed by President Trump’s vulgarity, his preening narcissism, his evident disregard for the obligations of leading a fractured nation. All Joe really wanted to do was be a normal president, like we used to have before all-caps Twitter rants, before House speakers tore up State of the Union addresses on live TV, before news organizations became propaganda arms of the “resistance.”
It’s a quaint thought, and perhaps as president he’ll succeed in changing the national tone. But is he ready to lead the revolution the woke agitators in his own party are expecting? These people are not just found in the mobs on the streets. They’re in the nation’s newsrooms and classrooms and workplaces.
They’ve no time for all those Washington niceties that Joe’s embraced for 50 years. They’re going to want him to pack the Supreme Court, which would require the Senate to end the filibuster. (The filibuster! For shame! Joe probably regards the filibuster in the way most of us regard our mother’s apple pie recipe). They’re going to tell him to sign legislation to admit new states to tilt the Senate playing field decisively in their favor. They’re going to want him to support moves to end the Electoral College.
They’ll expect him to denounce the history of America, the country that, for all his—and our—flaws, you know deep down he still reveres. Poor deluded Joe still probably thinks the U.S. was founded in 1776. Wait till he finds out his great grandkids are going to be taught that it was really 1619. Delaware, the First State? You’re kidding me. Fascist State, more like.
If the recent past is any guide and the confirmation process for Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the Supreme Court goes as expected, Joe, this proud descendant of Irish immigrants, this former altar boy and regular communicant, is going to be expected to smile as his former Senate colleagues participate in another show trial of Catholics who follow the church’s teachings. Though he’s spent a political lifetime accommodating his flexible version of the faith to the ever encroaching demands of progressive intolerance, even he must be uneasy about the deluge of bigotry his party routinely pours on those of a more traditional confession.
You get the sense that deep down Joe probably knows that if he wins he won’t really be president at all. He’ll be a kind of masked hostage who issues reassuring bromides from a gilded cell somewhere in the White House family quarters. Popping up every now and then with a copy of that day’s newspaper to remind us he’s still OK and if we do what his captors tell us, everything will be fine.
And if, God forbid, he succumbs to the ravages of advancing mortality, it’ll be “Weekend at Bernie’s” at the White House, the crazed kids all running around getting their nefarious business done while Joe, rictus grin and Ray-Bans to the fore, is propped up behind the Resolute desk, a waxy symbol of implausible continuity. Given his near invisibility on the campaign trail these past few months, will anyone know the difference?
You may object that I am being too kind to this lifelong Democratic loyalist. That this is a man after all who throughout his career has shown no compunction in adapting to the political drift of his party, that he’s not been averse to a high-tech lynching of a political opponent when it’s called for or blessing the sort of hyperpartisan hypocrisy and chicanery his colleagues have perfected.
Perhaps that’s right. A man who’s made a career out of compromising with the uncompromising might see this latest accommodation as a fitting culmination to a long career.
Does Joe really want this? Perhaps he doesn’t even remember.