Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Predicting Character: The Jocularity of Joe B... Oh Wait, Biden's Not Running

After months of speculation by a mainstream media eager for a blood-filled horse race among Democrats for the 2016 campaign - and his addition to my drinking game rules that now no longer apply to him - Vice President Joe Biden (D-DE) has decided NOT to run for President of the United States.  Via the Atlantic:

Biden made his long-awaited announcement in the White House Rose Garden with President Obama standing by his side. Speculation about his decision had reached an almost comical pitch in recent days, as his camp repeatedly left allies and reporters alike with the impression that he would make a dramatic entrance into the race.
As recently as Tuesday, the vice president delivered a speech seen as a none-too-subtle dig at Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner and his former colleague in the Obama Cabinet and before that, in the Senate. He challenged Clinton’s account of the recommendations that the two of them made to Obama before the president ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in 2011, and he implicitly criticized her remark during the first Democratic debate that Republicans were her “enemies.”
Biden considered running just months after the tragic loss of his eldest son, Beau, who succumbed to brain cancer in the spring and reportedly urged him to make a third and final bid for the presidency. But all along, the vice president acknowledged that with his family grieving, he might not be able to make a decision in time for the 2016 race.

I was at lunch when the announcement came.  My twitter feed went from chiding comic artist Stephan Stjepan Sejic about his well-received series Sunstone (NSFW) to one filled with political commentators waging a snark war against the many pundits out there who pined for a Biden run (for most of those Biden hopeful, for no other reason than to debunk Hillary).  I'll get into the failures of those pundits in another article with the appropriate scorn.

With regards to the political race for the Presidency, this is good news for the lead Democratic candidates.  Hillary is the obvious winner as Biden was the one Establishment candidate who would have pulled away support from the center.  Bernie also wins because Biden would no longer be there as the "respected" alternative, making him the alternate choice for the overall party should Hillary falter.  The other candidates O'Malley and Chafee are still stuck in the shadows.  Jim Webb left after realizing he looks like Alec Baldwin he's too conservative for the Democrats anymore.

As for Biden, I've listed his strengths and weaknesses as a candidate before, which is now an academic "what if" topic.  His strengths this particular election cycle would have been running as the logical successor to the presidency of his boss Barack Obama.  Despite the noise from the Republicans, Obama remains a popular leader: some polls have Obama over 50 percent favorable again, and for a President this late into a second term being in the mid-40s is still a remarkable feat.  Any successor candidate for a popular sitting President tends to get a favorable boost for it - SEE Bush the Elder campaigning in 1988 - which is why some pundits considered it an easy go for Biden if he threw his hat in.

In truth, I didn't see Biden making any impact on the race or even getting a decent shot at winning the nomination.  Partly because he waited too long - giving up too much lead time to Hillary and Bernie - but mostly because previous attempts at running for President - 2008 in particular - went nowhere.

On paper, Biden has the professional resume you want in a President: long-standing elected official with a relatively clean reputation with the halls of power, having worked from the House to the Senate with a track record of legislative work.  His biggest knock was a history of plagiarism, and that blew over years ago.  I originally marked him as someone with a personality flatter than drywall: in reality he's noticeably approachable and slightly off-kilter (he's akin to the wacky uncle your father tolerates at Turkey Day rituals).  But that impression never developed for me - and apparently for most voters - because Biden just ends being unremarkable, kinda easily forgettable.

He lacks that charisma.

In may be that this cycle for 2016 there is no one else as charismatic as Obama running for Dems - Hillary has some charm but is limited to a more determined, competent manager role; Bernie is the eccentric college professor; O'Malley the standard bureaucrat; and Chafee, thanks to SNL, does remind me of Frozen's Olaf, Gods help him - but that wouldn't have helped Biden.  His history of gaffes didn't help: his overall appearance puts him between Sanders and O'Malley.  No, no.  Biden was better off not jumping in.

What Biden gets out of this move - and that move is "not to play" - is subtle but far-reaching.  By not getting into the mudpool that is a Presidential campaign, Biden remains unsullied as a political leader within the Democratic ranks.  He can retain cachet - even former Vice Presidents can maintain reputations - among younger Democratic figures needing a mentor figure or a helpful campaign fund-raiser.  He could conceivably head back to Delaware or the Mid-Atlantic states as a regional power broker aiding the state Democrats to organize and win local races (running for Governor would be an interesting option down the road).

He helps the Democratic race by keeping the fight simple between Hillary Clinton as the Establishment (Centrist) candidate and Bernie Sanders as the Radical (Left) candidate.  This hurts the Republican race because their campaigns are still clogged with like-sounding opponents fighting over personalities, old slights, and damaging actions of the past they'd rather not dredge up.  By staying out, Biden ensures the Far Right and their media allies can't stir up the wrong kind of dissension within the Democratic ranks.

It may not be a good move for Biden's ego to stay out of the race, but it looks a lot like a sound choice for his soul and well-being.

1 comment:

dinthebeast said...

You gotta admit though, it puts Joe in some rarefied company: a politician who went against his own ambitions to do the right thing.

-Doug in Oakland