Biden getting the Democrat nomination hinges on his capacity to grasp the soul of America, writes Terry Prone
In any earlier Presidential election, Joe Biden could have been squelched by age, neck-nuzzling or the Anita Hill thing. This time around, he has a good chance of surmounting all of the above, simply because of The Donald.
If Biden were to become the Democrat’s nominee, the age thing can’t be a major factor, since Trump is only four years younger than he is.
Then there’s the lying thing. Some US news sites now run a weekly “Fact Check” feature on the current President’s utterances. When he makes a claim, some researcher or reporter goes off to the record, or to primary sources, and finds out whether the statement is true or false.
This never happened prior to Trump. Not saying that no previous President has ever lied in office. Every President has, deliberately or accidentally, told untruths during their tenure.
But Trump’s untruthfulness is so flagrant, repetitive and uncaring, it puts any previous presidential liar in the ha’penny place. It also, in theory, offers any potential opponent a free pass to fib without punishment.
And that free pass is retrospective: no anti-Trump contender is likely to emerge as having historically lied on the scale Trump has copyrighted.
So deceit is not going to spavin Biden, although it has to be said that his capacity to tell monumental whoppers down the decades, starting with his college years, when he presented as all his own work an essay which wasn’t.
When the university caught him at it, his response was interesting. He didn’t say “Yeah, I put a big chunk of stuff in there without putting quotation marks around it or citing where it came from, thereby letting on that it was all my own work — because I thought I’d get away with with it.” He didn’t say that. Instead, he pointed to the crudity of the cut-and-paste. He said that if he was malevolently setting out to plagiarise, he wouldn’t have done it so badly.
Because? Because he wasn’t that stupid. His plagiarism wasn’t malevolent. It was a better class of plagiarism. Innocent, sort of. If it had been malevolent, he’d have done it better. Because he’s clever. Got that?
The University didn’t turf him out on his ear, although he was no star performer and therefore wouldn’t have been an enormous loss to them.
Long before the excursion into plagiarism, he was hanging around the lowest quartile of his class, avoiding failure only by the skin of his teeth.
It would have been easy to turf him, but the college kept him. Maybe they liked him. It is reportedly easy to like him, according to almost everybody who has spent time with him. Maybe the college cut him some slack so he could learn from his errors.
Except that Biden didn’t learn. He did it again. He claimed scholastic achievement he didn’t have. And when he was running for president, first time around, back in the eighties, he delivered a plagiarized speech. In case you missed it, what happened was that the Presidential candidate delivered a stunning oration about how the US was a great country, as proven by the fact that he was the first of his family to get to third level, as was his wife.
Great speech. Great even when it was first delivered by Neil Kinnock, then the leader of the UK’s Labour Party. Biden lifted the speech, tinkered with it a bit, and sent it out as his own. Inevitably, some hack spotted the similarities between the two orations and made the voting public aware of them.
The plagiarised speech proved three things about Biden. The first is that he knows a great speech when he sees it. The second is that he learned not a thing by being previously caught at plagiarism. The third — arguably the most important to a political candidate — is that he had no sense of the virtually inevitable consequences.
If Biden were a Republican, he would have no problem at all, now that the party has proven itself immune to concern over terminological inexactitudes.
When you have a President advising other men on how power facilitates its owner in the grabbing of a woman’s private parts, a mildly space-invading hugger whose worst crime seems to have been nuzzling a woman’s hair isn’t up there as a sexual predator. Joe Biden is never going to be fitted with an ankle bracelet.
But the Democrats see themselves as idealists. They want to believe passionately in their candidate. They don’t want to be at dinner parties talking about that candidate as being practiced and pragmatic.
Nobody mans a barricade for practiced and pragmatic.
Joe Biden getting the Democrat nomination hinges on his capacity to grasp the soul of America, to convince Democrats, in the first place, that he is the man to lead them in a fight to restore dignity and depth to the role of President. He’s already made some of the right noises. The problem is where he’s made them.
Conventional PR and political campaigning wisdom says you get your candidate on the TV programme with the most viewers. Conventional PR and political campaigning wisdom is wrong. In an odd time-warp, town hall gatherings have become more important than TV interview programmes in delivering a sense of who the candidates are, but more importantly, in delivering an opportunity for voters to be converted, reaffirmed and to hear themselves vow loyalty to their chosen candidate. Bernie Sanders has proven the value of the old-fashioned rally. Donald Trump has such faith in town-hall rallies that he has, throughout his first term, invested unprecedented time and energy in this method of campaigning.
Trump may have become famous in the US through TV, but somewhere along the line he learned that, while viewers may like you, people physically in the middle of a highly aroused town hall audience come to love you and to believe that you love them. Trump’s town hall audiences tend to be on the older side, which is the demographic most likely to buy in to Biden. But of course, the key reason Trump loves town hall rallies is precisely the same reason Joe Biden should favour them over appearing on programmes like the all-women’s chat show, The View.
Trump loves them because he doesn’t get interrupted by pesky hostile interviewers wanting to put data-filled accusatory questions to him. At town hall rallies, it’s the audience that gets pesky and hostile. Not with him. Never with him. But with any journalist easily identified as such.
If Biden keeps going on interview shows, he’s going to find himself forever answering – or failing to answer – questions about his past political failures and his badly managed reach out to Anita Hill, just before he announced his candidacy. If, on the other hand, he can get face-to-face with potential voters and persuade them that America is filled with more pride and possibility than hostility and racism, he just might do it.