In the current field there is a decided lack of gravitas, for lack of a better word. The contenders don’t lack for ideas or for fiery rhetoric, but there is a certain lighter-than-air quality to the case they make for their election. Essentially all the candidates make the case that President Trump is a racist bully and that once he’s vanquished, they will be able to roll out a list of transformative proposals ranging from Medicare-for-all to the Green New Deal to, in some cases, reparations.
They speak for an electoral majority on the “racist bully” part, but the assumption that the country is waiting for Medicare-for-all and other outsized plans is faulty. Democratic primary voters, determined to chase Trump from the White House, are understandably concerned that proposals that thrill 500 people in Iowa or earn zillions of clicks for $25 donations are going to give a lot of voters pause.
When Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) says she wants big, fundamental change, you can almost hear Trump bellowing “Socialism!” More important, you can also imagine the average voter saying, “Actually, I’d just like my drug costs to go down” or “Could you do something about my deductibles?”
In short, the current field has been good at identifying the problem — Trump and the middle-class squeeze — but may badly overshoot the mark on solutions and overestimate the degree to which Trump, total gridlock and nonstop fighting in Washington have exhausted the country. The country arguably yearns for normalcy, not for revolution.
That brings us back to Biden, who routinely praises the country in a way that communicates that our problems are manageable. After all, the economy is pretty good now. (It’s not as if it’s 2008, when Barack Obama was able to run against a party on whose watch an economic disaster had occurred.) Biden instills a level of confidence, perhaps aided by years of experience, that he has the tool kit to fix some sizable problems without upheaval.
He recently had to apologize for calling Vice President Pence a “decent guy,” which, given Pence’s slavish fidelity to Trump and his extreme views on LGBTQ rights, is not going to fly with Democrats. However, he could say, “I know these guys — the Republicans — like the back of my hand. I know they have no clue how to solve our problems, and I know how to make it impossible for them to oppose popular, common-sense items like reducing drug costs, gun safety and green energy.”
Biden is not any less committed to universal health care or anti-climate-change measures or raising take-home pay for working-class families than others in the race. What would set him apart is a certain wiliness and a sensibility that voters, even those who oppose his policies, analogize to a pair of comfortable shoes.
The race could use someone who knows how one gets things done (like Obamacare, he’ll tell voters) and some sense of proportion. When Biden says, “We can fix these things” or “We can do this,” he reduces problems to manageable size and offers the promise that solutions are attainable.
He also would simply destroy Trump on foreign policy. He knows how to avoid giving a dictator the upper hand, how to get allies to hold together and why we don’t go around giving cover to a crown prince for the murder of a journalist. The country won’t be a laughingstock under his watch, he would say.
I wonder what Warren or others in a debate would say if Biden interjected, “Elizabeth, there aren’t 30 votes in the U.S. Senate for Medicare-for-all, but there are enough to lower drug prices, expand Medicaid and cover millions of more people. I know how to deliver all that. Voters can have a lovely proposal, or they can solve problems that make their lives better.” We might just get to find out.