Unlike virtually every candidate in the race who either has questions about his readiness/experience or ideological extremism (often considered in the context of electability), Biden is as ready and experienced as one can be having served for decades in the Senate and for two terms as President Barack Obama’s vice president. He’s center-left ideologically, and is someone seen as a friend to organized labor and the African American community — but never to be confused with self-described socialist Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). Biden doesn’t have either of those hurdles to overcome.
These and other key assets — organization, goodwill with voters and fundraising (although perhaps not as effectively online) — make him a formidable, if not the favored candidate. Candidates trying to occupy the moderate slot or the “heartland” slot may have a tough time after Biden enters the race. And Sanders, who’s skated by with minimal explanation for how he’s to fund his Medicare-for-all plan, now will have a competitor who is able to say, Bernie, I love ya, but you’ve never gotten anything done 'cause you’re in left field.
Biden’s challenge (the hugging/personal space issue, frankly, has already been dispensed with) is to avoid becoming the candidate of the past or the candidate of the Obama status quo. It’s going to be tempting to defend every action from that administration, but Democrats and the country at large look at problems that didn’t begin with Trump and wonder whether a septuagenarian who spent decades inside the Beltway is really the guy to take on racial injustice, glaring income inequality, forever wars and the influence of money in politics.
One can almost hear Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., saying, That generation had its chance. Look how badly they did. It’s time for a new generation who isn’t tainted by past failures and moral blindspots.
One can imagine the race evolving into a top trio or quartet: The Three B’s — Biden, Bernie and Buttigieg — plus Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), who’s able to implicitly raise the question of whether we really want another white guy. Do Democrats want the familiar (Biden), the generational game-changer (Buttigieg), the transformational (Harris) or the full-blown socialist (Sanders)?
That’s, I suspect, what the next few months will be about as each of the top-tier candidates makes the case that his or her strengths far outweigh his or her deficits, and that the other contenders are riskier nominees to go up against President Trump. Another candidate or two may break out in the debates — Has former representative Beto O’Rourke (Tex.) already peaked? Can Gov. Jay Inslee (Wash.) resonate with Democrats frightened about climate change? — but one or more of the top four is very likely to be on the ticket (top or bottom). In their hands, in all likelihood, will rest the awesome responsibility of defeating the menace to our democracy and the most unfit person to occupy the Oval Office. Democrats must choose wisely.