[This is a multi-part essay that begins with a pleasant and rolling introduction (definitely worth reading).
As always readers are encouraged to pick and choose what, if any, of this they’d like to read.]
Save the Party, Save the World blared a recent article in the NYRB. As if the title wasn’t shameless enough, the first sentence reads, “ensuring the success of the Democratic Party has become the most important political project in the world.”1 Let’s put aside how patently and demonstrably stupid both of those statements are, and focus instead on one obvious implication of this nonsense, which could read: The most important political project in the world is getting Joe Biden elected president.
Kind of makes your asshole pucker, doesn’t it??
Because of COVID, we’ve largely been spared seeing a lot of Joe. Instead of being out on the proverbial stump, he’s mostly been holed up in his basement in Delaware, where I believe he’s hosting a podcast? Many have argued this pandemic-induced exile has actually been good for Joe: first, the less he talks publicly the less likely he is to make yet another gaffe (Stand up, Chuck…), and second, given enough time Trump will eventually self-implode.
The first premise is grounded in fact (The Chuck mentioned above, former Missouri State Senator Chuck Graham, was a paraplegic when Biden invited him to take a stand…); the second on a fruitless hope that ignores all psychological reality. (Trump can only implode under vacuum-like conditions wherein he’s completely ignored by every living thing on this planet, a gift we’re sadly unwilling to give.)
Eventually Biden, like Punxsutawney Phil, will have to emerge from his underground burrow, at which point he’s going to start talking and we’re really going to be in trouble (see above). But until that point (and sadly, after), we’ll have our ears full of pundits impressing upon us the two things mentioned above: ensuring the election of a Democratic president, in this case Joe Biden.
The challenge confronting the Biden campaign is unique. As I’m about to argue, I don’t think he’s any more qualified to be president than my blender is (a notion that’s not as far fetched as it sounds: after 4-years of Trump I think we could all use a smoothie break). But because he’s competing against Trump, by virtue of the fact that he’s NOT Trump he’s automatically considered qualified to be president.
Some may debate my use of the word “qualified” above — again, I’ll come back to that in a minute. For now, I’m certain we could find concord around the word Inspiration. No one who isn’t named Joe Biden is inspired by Joe Biden or his campaign, which means — when pundits argue on his behalf, they’re required to do some serious contortions, such as this:
“He is broadly viewed as an exemplar of personal honor… there could be no more credible messenger of the demise of the GOP nor a more reassuring leader in an era of transformative and partisan legislative action.”2
Let’s pivot back from Inspiration to Qualified and begin breaking down arguments for Joe’s presidential campaign. I think of the above quote as the Joe’s Exemplary argument, which, for all its attempts to apply bronzer to burnish Joe’s purported good-guy reputation (especially when contrasted with the true king of glaze), is nevertheless outright bosh. In no specific order:
- Biden has been accused of plagiarism multiple times (as early as law school and during an earlier presidential run in the 80’s) and has a relationship with objective truth that could best be called Slippery;
- He received five (5!) student draft deferments that allowed him to avoid serving in Vietnam;
- He has been accused of sexual harassment by MULTIPLE women;
- His record on issues confronting non-white communities can best be termed Lousy;
- The majority of his campaign funding comes from Super PAC’s;
- He struggles to complete coherent sentences.3
Now, I’ll acknowledge that certain corners of our present culture have some standards that are way, way too high, such that it almost seems the only beings who can achieve them are not humans (because humans involve flaws and frequent errors). But each of the above is, in isolation, concerning; in conglomerate, they should be exclusionary from any leadership position (and Yes, that does include lead busser); more to the quoted point, those things sure don’t play nicely with concepts of “exemplar of personal honor.” Lastly if a lot of the above reminds you of another candidate running in this year’s election — you’re not mistaken.
If you don’t buy the Joe’s Exemplary thing, instead you should shop the Joe-as-Obama-2.0 line of thinking, which basically argues — a Biden presidency will replay all your favorite hits from ’08-’16. After all, ol’Joe and Barack really governed together, like co-presidents… Super, except for a couple niggling details, presented again in no particular order:
- Those doggone endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — wars that, despite Joe’s attempts once again to gloss the truth of, he voted to authorize. In addition, there was the ongoing extension/ramping-up of the overall “war on terror” with expanded done “warfare,” the shit-stain that is Guantanamo Bay, etc — what we can loosely call Perpetuated Militarization, which, if you were lucky, you may have seen first hand on the streets of your city this summer.
- The housing bubble-economic crash of 2008. Now, Joe-Bama didn’t “cause” this to happen, but then no single individual did, so that observation doesn’t reveal much. However, it’s inarguable that the meltdown was the result of neoliberal economic policies put in place since the 70’s, policies that Joe has repeatedly and enthusiastically supported during his many years in Congress. Moving out of the distant past, Joe-Bama’s solutions from ’09 on involved more neoliberalism: in this case, bailing out Wall Street, holding no one to substantive legal consequences, allowing thousands to default on their mortgages while consolidating the housing market such that rents have skyrocketed and housing has largely become an unregulated play pen for millionaires.
- The continuation of social and economic inequalities best expressed by the Black Lives Matter movement (and, to a lesser extent, the Occupy Movement), which — curiously enough — didn’t only come about while a Black president was in office, but rose to prominence in response to endemic, systematic, and structural inequalities that were being perpetuated by the Obama administration, or, as Joe likes to think about it, His and B’s co-presidency.
The point is simply that the Obama years weren’t as rosy as you may think you remember them to be.4 The additional point is that if ol’Joe wants to hitch his wagon to Obama’s remembered horse, then he’s got to own up for all the bumps that are down those trails.
The last argument in defense of Joe is what I’ll call the FDR-Redux argument. I hear this increasingly as we draw nearer to the election, usually from well intentioned folks such as my mother. The gist is basically that Biden truly is becoming (notice the gerund) an agent of change; in response to the present situation he’s really turning a corner on his policies and positions; he’s ready to be a progressive, big-moment leader who hammers home legislation in the mold of FDR’s New Deal.
In simplest terms — and to stick both with the gerund form and the underlining — I am calling bullshit.
I call bullshit because Joe’s career has been one long manifestation of party/corporate stooge-ism5, and 77 year olds DO NOT JUST CHANGE OVERNIGHT, especially when there are hundreds of millions of dollars invested in them staying the same.6
I call bullshit for all of the above, bullet-pointed reasons (as well as those expanded on here).
I call bullshit because the one telling us that Joe’s changing is Joe himself, and as previously mentioned he doesn’t have a great track record with both honesty and clear speaking.
I call bullshit because Joe’s campaign is funded by companies who will not simply want but expect what companies always want and expect when they extend funding — legislation that best serves their interests. If you’re stubborn on this point you can do a little digging of your own7, or take the word of this recent summary from a Times article on Biden’s campaign funds, which referred to “the most quintessential of Wall Street plays: seeing a distressed asset at that time, and buying low.”8 The asset in question was, of course, the Biden campaign.9
In summary, I call bullshit because this is absurd, irrational, head-in-the-sand magical thinking on par with believing that certain species of pocket gophers can sprout wings and fly. There is NO foundation in a factual world — for all of the above reasons — that ol’Joe is going to be a progressive voice on anything.
Joe as exemplary, Joe as Obama 2.0, Joe as FDR Redux — bunk. All of it bunk.10
But necessary bunk.
I understand that. I truly do, because, to return to the above concept of Inspiration, if you’re going to check the box labeled Joe Biden this November, you’re not excited. You don’t feel good about this choice. You know ol’Joe’s a turd.
You knew this already. You didn’t even need this essay to know it.
But you don’t want to think too much about any of that, for two reasons: First, it doesn’t feel good to vote for a turd; second, and more importantly, that other guy really is so bad that he simply has to go.
So you get nimble, which leads to much of the garbage addressed above.
This is the part of the essay where, with all of the above in mind, I’m going to make a comparison most readers aren’t going to like. In fact, it’s probably going to smart a good amount, which is why I put those five hearts directly above this sentence, so readers remember it’s said with love.
If all of the above is true, or at least hews mostly close to what’s mostly true: you don’t really like Joe, he doesn’t Inspire you and as I hope I’ve shown he’s far, far from Qualified, BUT you really can’t stand the other guy — well, doesn’t that make your voting rationale exactly the same as those who voted for Trump four years ago?
Take a moment.
Remember the five hearts.
That defensiveness — it’s natural.
Don’t worry — of course you’re not like Gram Debbie or Cousin Otis.
You might be worse, because at least Trump voters in 2016 were supporting what they thought — rightly, wrongly or grossly misguidedly — would be a change, while a vote for Biden is — rightly, wrongly and grossly misguidedly — a vote for a return to a system whose logical conclusion is Trump.
- This reality cannot be attributed solely to his age (if elected, he’d be 78 when he took office), but his age, and concomitant health, must at least be acknowledged. Dude’s old.
- I imagine people confuse Obama’s truly soaring rhetoric with what came before and after it, and from there conclude — That was a pretty good time.
- Unfortunately there’s no great way, in a linear system such as our writing, to show the true equivalency between those two terms; readers are encouraged to organize, and thus prioritize them in whichever manner they choose.
- This actually raises an interesting thought experiment — To all those Biden-boosters trying to convince me that after nearly 50-years of a politics that can best be termed Same, that NOW is the time when Ol’Joe’s somehow magically going to change and become a truly progressive voice, would you extend that same consideration of change to Trump? In other words — if Biden can turn it around now, why can’t Don-Don?? 129% of people I unscientifically surveyed with that thought rejected it out of hand, which is roughly the same % of registered Democrats who insist Biden really means change this time around.
- Here’s a useful starting point: https://www.opensecrets.org/2020-presidential-race/candidate/joe-biden?id=N00001669
- It’s probably useful to point out that it is a very, very rare company whose interests align with the well-being of our general population; in fact, the only company that would meet that criterion would be one that is actually owned by the public, but that’s a concept way too wacky for Joe/FDR-Redux.
- This is the part where folks who want to defend Joe might take issue with my reasoning by saying that I’m holding to some stringent and abstruse Purity Politics, and in doing so am being self-defeating. (I heard a clip of President Obama speaking to this concern recently: his talk was in regards to culture, but can easily be co-opted to this.) Two thoughts on that: First and foremost, I don’t think any of the above, taken individually or as a conglomerate, appeal to an abstract Purity. If any appeals are being implied they are to — Oh, what’s that word Obama used to use? — Hope… Long and short: I simply want better-than, and Joe — isn’t it. Secondly, while that’s a fair point re: Purity and the inevitable failings of humans, and is definitely something to keep in mind re: our culture’s recent obsessions with the word CANCEL, it’s also a form of politics that can quickly lead to self-defeated acceptance of the status quo, and as the quo in this status is Joe: I’ve got to say No, thanks, we’re all set over here, for all the reasons mentioned above.