aNewDomain — David Brooks, an influential opinion columnist at The New York Times, declared a month ago that United States Vice President Joe Biden should not run for president in 2016. But after watching Biden’s spot on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” in which Biden talked about his son Beau’s death, Brooks has changed his opinion. He says; Hand Biden the launch codes.
Brooks announced his new stance in a column yesterday, where he wrote that Biden’s discussion on Beau’s early death “was beautiful and genuine and revealed the golden heart that everybody knows is at the core of the man.”
And so something else, which leads to this other thing, thus a supposition, and if and then and so Biden should run for president. Or, as Brooks wrote:
With Colbert, one saw the kernel of a Biden formation story that could connect not only with Democratic voters but with other voters as well. It is a story of dual loss: his wife and daughter decades ago and his son this year. Out of that loss comes a great empathy, a connection to those who are suffering in this economy and this world. Out of that loss comes a hypercharged sense of mission. Out of that loss comes a liberation from the fear of failure that dogs most politicians, and causes them to dodge, prevaricate and spin.”
Biden has absolutely suffered from a near-Kennedy level of personal loss.
Like Brooks, I believe more in “I-feel-your-pain” statements when they’re made by people who’ve actually been through hell, rather than by those whose lives are paved with money and good fortune. (Speaking of pain, Bill Clinton’s smooth tones didn’t exactly lessen his ardor for pain-inducing free-trade agreements.)
The question remains: Is the loss of a wife and two sons enough to create a “formation story” (Brook’s words) to make him a legitimate contender for 2016?
Here’s Brooks on would-be Biden rivals:
Democrats this year are looking for a formation story that proves commitment. This is a party that is moving boldly leftward. Its voters want to know their candidate has the inner drive to push through structural changes, not just half measures. Bernie Sanders has such a story. From his days at the University of Chicago onward, he has been a pile driver for progressive causes, regardless of the prevailing winds. Hillary Clinton hasn’t yet presented a clear formation story. She talks about being a grandmother, which humanizes her, but doesn’t explain how she got to be the person she is.”
I agree with Brooks. A formation story helps. It’s not enough, though.
To me, what matters more is a “why-me” framework. Given the other candidates — Clinton, Sanders and that former governor guy from Maryland — why should Democratic primary voters turn to Biden?
This is where the logic of Biden’s proto-candidacy stumbles.
After eight years as Obama’s faithful water carrier, Biden hasn’t exactly showed personal political accomplishments beyond his previous, always obscure and now completely forgotten career representing Delaware in the Senate. (We could consider whether or not he’s been allowed to make his own mark, but that’s another matter.)
Biden, these days, is just That Guy, Who Seems Nice, Rides Amtrak, Sure Been Through a Lot of Shit. Likeable, sure. But why should he be president, and not Bernie or Hillary?
Bernie and Hillary divvy up the Democratic Party so neatly there’s nowhere for a Biden to wedge himself in — how can he create space? A formation story isn’t enough. He needs room and presence to call voters, and an agenda.
Sanders takes the progressives and the hardcore liberals. Hillary gets the old DLC center-right Clinton-Obama coalition. Sanders is new (well, new old); Hillary is old old. Take your pick: the democratic socialist or the inevitabilitarian. A Biden vote takes votes away from each of the others in roughly equal numbers, though more from Hillary — enough to hurt the party, and not nearly enough to decide the race.
It’s OK to like Biden personally. But there’s no rationale for him entering the presidential sweepstakes at this late date.
Images in order: Joe Biden via Wikimedia Commons; David Brooks screenshot courtesy Jewish Journal, All Rights Reserved; Screenshot courtesy The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, All Rights Reserved.