On the eve of the Michigan primary, former vice president Joe Biden arrived in Detroit for a rally. He brought along a trio of rising Democratic stars: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.). Harris remains one of the most dynamic and charismatic figures in the party and received the most enthusiastic reception. (It was telling that she was third to come onstage, right before Biden.)
She redeployed some of her best stanzas from her own campaign on Biden’s behalf. “Justice is on the ballot. Economic justice is on the ballot. Reproductive justice is on the ballot. Health-care justice is on the ballot. Environmental justice is on the ballot. Racial justice is on the ballot,” she declared. “And Joe Biden is on the ballot!”
She also made a new and compelling argument: President Trump is counting on demoralizing Americans. “There has been a conscious attempt to try to disillusion us,” she said. “Saying that we cannot trust our democracy. Powerful forces trying to say, ‘You don’t matter, so don’t participate.’” She might have added: Powerful forces trying to tell you there is no objective reality.
Most effectively, Harris recounted how she got to know Biden through his son Beau, when the two were attorneys general in their respective states, California and Delaware, in the wake of the financial meltdown. Even though Delaware was not as hard-hit, she recalled, Beau stood with her against the predatory banks. She admired Beau’s courage and added, “It’s a rare thing to see such a special relationship with a father and his son.”
Biden quite deliberately offers himself as a transition figure to a new generation of exciting, pragmatic progressives. He told the crowd as he gestured to his three surrogates: “I view myself as a bridge, not as anything else. They are the future of this country." Ironically, it might be the vice-presidential pick that generates a sense of change and possibility on a ticket where the top name provides the competence, moral grounding and unifying spirit to clean up after the Trump years.
Biden was interrupted twice during his comments by protesters whom Biden dismissed as Bernie Bros. However, he was the one, he told the crowd, who turned out voters and generated the excitement, rattling off the turnout numbers for several Super Tuesday states.
The interruptions unintentionally underscored a message Biden delivered later in his remarks. “We cannot become like them,” he said, referring to Trump (but in words equally applicable to the Sanders crowd). “I refuse to accept the notion we can’t get anything done unless we crush the other party.”
That message serves as an important contrast between Biden and his lone rival. Biden wants to heal; Sanders wants to fight — including within the Democratic Party. Biden speaks to a deep well of desire among voters to end the ranting and raving, the lies, the cruelty and the boorishness that characterize the Trump era. They are tired of angry old men.
Democratic primary voters are telling us by overwhelming numbers that they want kindness and unity, not rudeness and division. Especially with the country on the verge of a devastating pandemic and an economic slump, the aversion to impulsive, volatile politicians is understandable. And if voters want a little excitement, Biden points out, there are a flock of bright, younger faces ready to join Biden’s ticket.