In his newly published interview with the New York Times editorial board, former vice president Joe Biden was forced to contend with some remarkable efforts to twist and distort his words. He was confronted with his comment that the “younger generation” did not know how “tough” things were for previous generations:

Biden: So I was at a university and they said, “Well, why should we get involved? It’s all dirty.” I said, “I don’t want to hear it. Don’t whine to me. I got the same lecture in 1972 when I was in the middle of a — there was a Vietnam War — where I got the same thing, or was told in 1965 when I got involved in the civil rights movement: Don’t get involved, but you got to get involved.
[New York Times editor Aisha Harris]: But you did double down on those comments this past summer.
Biden: Sure I did. When they say to me, “I’m not going to get involved.” I said, “No, I don’t want to hear it. Get involved.”
Harris: But some could argue that you’re sort of painting a broad brush of the millennials. You have . . .
Biden: No, I’m not. I was answering questions. The question was, “Why should I get involved?” I said, “Because it’s your responsibility. You have a responsibility.”
Harris: So do you think that this younger generation as a whole is not participating enough, and they don’t have the same burdens as previous generations?
Biden: No. What’s happening is it’s awakened now. . . . We wouldn’t have him. They sat home, didn’t get involved.

I am not sure why valuable time would be spent on this remark, but what is noteworthy is Biden’s firmness, persistence and calm. He doesn’t snap at reporters who question him, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) often does. If electability and the ability to stand up to President Trump is an issue, Democrats will want a nominee who can defuse non-scandals and short-circuit mischaracterizations of his record.

The former vice president also seems to have sharpened his responses to questions about the work of his son Hunter in Ukraine:

New York Times editor Kathleen Kingsbury: [You] fought corruption in Ukraine. There is no indication that you or your son did anything wrong or were part of any corruption in Ukraine. But you still haven’t really answered the question of whether or not you think it’s proper for the son of a sitting vice president of the United States to serve on the board of a foreign company that’s being investigated for corruption.
Biden: Look, I fought corruption when I was in Ukraine. No one ever suggested I’ve done anything differently, including all of the president’s men and women who testify. And I didn’t realize he was on the board until he had been on the board for a while. . . . He’s acknowledged that he thought it was a mistake. And as you pointed out, the focus here is, can’t be taken off the fact who, in fact, violated the Constitution. Did the president of the United States engage in an offense that is a constitutional violation of seeking the influence of a foreign government? It’s a legitimate question to ask, but seems to me that the core of it is: No one has suggested I did anything wrong. And I didn’t realize he was on the board until after he had been on the board. At the same time, he has come forward and said it was a mistake on his part to be on the board.
Kingsbury: Would you be in favor of a law banning the children of sitting presidents and vice presidents from serving on foreign companies’ boards?
Biden: The answer is, I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I don’t think I would be opposed to it, except if, what happens if there’s a — now it wouldn’t apply to my family, but what happens if somebody’s son or daughter has long been a member of a board of a major corporation that’s a multinational corporation? It could be counterproductive, but I don’t —
Look, as I said, looking back on it, Hunter has indicated that he thought it was a mistake to do what he did, to get on the board, although no one’s indicated he’s done anything that was illegal or wrong. The one thing I will do as president is make sure no one in my family, while I’m president of the United States, has any involvement with any foreign government at all. That’s also to make sure there’s not a repetition of what’s taking place in the Trump White House. No one in my family will have an office in the White House.

That is about the cleanest response he has given: Hunter apologized, the former vice president was fighting corruption and did nothing wrong, but if you want to talk about nepotism, Biden’s ready to throw punches.

Finally, Biden managed to flummox his questioners on two points, one small and the other substantive. On the former, asked about his workout routine. Biden described his regimen and his daily workout assignments (he apparently can do 44 push-ups — interestingly, Biden’s age has for the most part not become an issue insofar as he does appear trim and vigorous). On the latter, concerning policy, he went further than any candidate on Facebook, suggesting doing away with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which exempts online platforms from liability for their posts:

New York Times writer Charlie Warzel: Mr. Vice President, in October, your campaign sent a letter to Facebook regarding an ad that falsely claimed that you blackmailed Ukrainian officials to not investigate your son. I’m curious, did that experience, dealing with Facebook and their power, did that change the way that you see the power of tech platforms right now?
Biden: No, I’ve never been a fan of Facebook, as you probably know. I’ve never been a big Zuckerberg fan. I think he’s a real problem. ...
He knows better. And you know, from my perspective, I’ve been in the view that not only should we be worrying about the concentration of power, we should be worried about the lack of privacy and them being exempt, which you’re not exempt. [The Times] can’t write something you know to be false and be exempt from being sued. But he can. The idea that it’s a tech company is that Section 230 should be revoked, immediately should be revoked, number one. For Zuckerberg and other platforms.
Warzel: That’s a pretty foundational laws of the modern internet.
Biden: That’s right. Exactly right. And it should be revoked. It should be revoked because it is not merely an internet company. It is propagating falsehoods they know to be false, and we should be setting standards not unlike the Europeans are doing relative to privacy. You guys still have editors. I’m sitting with them. Not a joke. There is no editorial impact at all on Facebook. None. None whatsoever. It’s irresponsible. It’s totally irresponsible.
Warzel: If there’s proven harm that Facebook has done, should someone like Mark Zuckerberg be submitted to criminal penalties, perhaps?
Biden: He should be submitted to civil liability and his company to civil liability, just like you would be here at the New York Times.

There are serious policy implications with that position, but it is likely to be a politically popular one with a lot of Democrats who see Facebook as having too much power and too little interest in protecting our elections from sabotage. A fight with Big Tech would not be the worst thing for Biden, who likes to cast himself as the candidate for the little guy.

Unexpectedly for a candidate with decades in public life, Biden has actually improved his performances both in debates and interviews as the campaign has gone on. He is perceived by opponents and perhaps the media as a stronger candidate now than he was several months ago. (“It took more than a year, but the Democratic presidential primary is finally coming to terms with the fact that Joe Biden isn’t going to collapse before the first votes are cast,” Politico reported. “If anything, the landscape is tilting more in his favor.”)

There are several factors to account for his perceived strength: Infighting between Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.); the heightened attention to foreign policy; Trump’s obvious anxiety about facing Biden (as in 2016, the GOP is now pushing the line that the primary is “rigged” against Sanders); Democrats’ concern about electability; Biden’s innate decency that seems awfully attractive in the Trump era; his association with President Barack Obama; and his stalwart support among African American voters.

None of this is to say that Biden is the front-runner. However, the race does seem a bit like the 2012 Republican primary campaign, when candidates rose and then fell, never knocking Mitt Romney out of the top spot. With a proportional system of awarding delegates and a still-large field, the race for the Democratic nomination may devolve into a slog. It’s a measure of how unpredictable politics is these days that the candidate whose ability to win many pundits questioned remains one of three to four candidates with the best shot at the nomination.

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