Former vice president Joe Biden made the TV rounds on Tuesday, reminding us why so many Democratic voters have rallied to his side. On MSNBC, he showed off his technical knowledge of government (recounting that he long ago recommended use of the Defense Production Act) as well as his empathy for people who have lost loved ones:

On CNN, Biden scoffed at President Trump’s suggestion that we should reopen businesses (presumably schools and everything else, right?) around Easter. The Democratic presidential front-runner essentially pleaded with Trump to put a sock in it and let the experts talk:

Biden displays nearly every quality and ability Trump lacks: Appreciation for expertise, candor, respect for fellow Americans, empathy, understanding of government, foresight (he warned about the virus as early as Jan. 27), thoughtfulness, coherence and a reverence for American values and spirit. With Trump, who is obsessed with his economic and political fortunes, the question is always, “What does he gain from this?”

For Biden, self-interest is a nonissue. (He points out that he never owned stocks while in public office.) While almost quaint these days, he comes from the school of politics that says if you get the policies right, the politics will work out. Trump, by contrast, works from the proposition that policies and power are there for his own benefit, specifically to assist his reelection.

Until Democrats put their foot down, the administration was insisting on a giant slush fund with little transparency or oversight. Does anyone imagine Trump would not have been the recipient of taxpayer money under that scenario? From the attempt to hold the Group of Seven summit at his Doral resort, to public officials using accommodations at his properties in Scotland and Ireland, to retention of his Washington hotel (where foreigners and others seeking favor are sure to stay), Trump throughout his presidency has lapped up revenue that his office has diverted his way.

Trump, in the middle of a crisis unlike anything for the last hundred years, has taken to berating governors who have asked for help, have pointed out they do not have promised testing kits and other supplies and have made hard decisions to shut down public life to save lives. (Trump ominously suggests, “It’s a two way street. They have to treat us well too,” a self-parody of the sort of shake-downs Trump favors.) You cannot fathom Biden would behave that way. He would be on the phones throughout the day.

You can almost hear the sort of banter he would employ with officials, such as New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. “Andrew, what do you need? Your dad and I were good friends, you know. What’s New York need. We won’t let you down.” Biden has a personal relationship with virtually every prominent politician in the United States and a storehouse of experience (9/11, Ebola, Hurricane Katrina, etc.) in dealing with natural and man-made disasters. If he wins in November, he’ll enter the presidency in much the same position as he and President Barack Obama did when they took over in 2009 in the middle of a financial mess.

It is not often that the challenger in a presidential election has more experience, granular knowledge of policy and gravitas than the sitting president. Here, it is not even close. Having spotted the threat of the pandemic and urged the Defense Production Act be activated, Biden already is demonstrating he is more competent than the incumbent. If Americans cannot figure out under these circumstances which candidate has the character and capacity to look after them, then the future of self-governance truly is in doubt.

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