The day after I heard that WNYC story that inspired my NY Times op ed on Trump, I had to take another long drive, this time to Boston. One the way I tuned into an NPR show about politics that dedicated its whole hour to speculation about Biden’s plans. I thought it was ridiculous. First of all, I remember how disastrous his two previous campaigns were (then again, I also remember how deeply polarizing HRC was back in the 1990s, something that the media people who spent the last four years telling us what a shoo-in she is seemed to have forgotten). Second, Biden didn’t exactly cover himself with glory during the Anita Hill hearings. Third, he’s a known quantity–a lot of people like him, true, but his shtick is just too old, and so, for that matter, is he.
I really didn’t give Biden another second of thought until I noticed all the Internet attention that his Colbert interview was getting. Since I’ve been trying to ignore the Colbert juggernaut too I hadn’t watched it, but when I read Evan Osnos’s New Yorker blog about it, I decided I should check it out.
Anyway, last night I watched the whole thing, and I admit I was pretty blown away.
What was so amazing wasn’t just the emotion and faith that both men so soberly and sincerely attested to (in a medium and a campaign that’s literally drowning in bathos and sanctimony), but Biden’s loving talk of Beau’s selflessness and empathy and the stories he told about how he never complained as a child, how he refused to wear his own name tag in Iraq lest he get special treatment and wouldn’t even wear his Bronze Star when he came home. He took care of his family, he did his job, he loved his country. Period.
What a contrast to Trump’s endless bragging, to Huckabee’s and Cruz’s grotesque grandstanding with Kim Davis, and to the bottomless entitlement and endless carping and complaining of the rest of the GOP’s favorite sons–and to HRC’s now-fading aura of inevitability. And then Biden said, “We can still be great as a country if we can just get out of our own way.”
Mind you, I get that he is a career politician and no less of a performer than Colbert, and that he’s not as liberal as Sanders or even HRC. But if Trump has proven that hate can get you far, I think that history has shown that optimism and courage can get you farther.
It was notable how Biden talked about Obama too–his frank admiration for his character, his fundamental agreement with his policies. I can’t stop thinking about how Gore threw away his campaign in 2000 by distancing himself from Clinton. Biden, it seemed to me, was implicitly reassuring Obama voters, however weary and disappointed they might be, that he still believes that we’re one America, that he and we as a nation can still rise above the partisan (and racist) meanness and follow his son’s example of selfless stewardship.
Reagan’s Morning in America was Reader’s Digest pablum; Biden seemed to be channeling something more like religious faith–which, as he said, is tremendously comforting, if not always easily accessible. It’s more subtle than the stuff that Trump’s calling up, but a lot more supple too. Trump appeals to the disappointed child in us; Biden, I think was evoking the father that those of us who are lucky enough to have long-lived parents get to meet when we become adults–vulnerable and flawed and a little ridiculous (because we know them too well) but also deeply reassuring and affirming. To put it another way, Trump is playing the part of the father who winces when we strike out in Little League and shames us when we bring home a crappy report card. Biden is being the man that we hope to be when we become parents ourselves.
I’m not a believer (religiously, I mean) and I’m not a Biden partisan, but that may change (the Biden part, I mean).