Biden has decided to substitute those events with frequent appearances on media, both traditional and social. He did so on Sunday, first with an interview on ABC News’s “This Week” and then during a video town hall. Remarkably, the public really can get a sense of Biden’s character and strengths in a number of respects. More important, the public can get a reminder how deficient President Trump is when it comes to the basic elements of presidential leadership.
First, Biden, unlike Trump, understands that a president must model good behavior. In his ABC interview, he said he would be willing to wear a mask in public, something Trump announced he would not do, undercutting the recommendation of experts. “I think it’s important to follow the science, listen to the experts, do what they tell you,” Biden said. “He may not like how he looks in a mask, but the truth of the matter is that — follow the science. That’s what they’re telling us.” A president, you see, puts vanity aside, supports his own scientists and understands that the country takes its cues from the president.
Second, Biden is an insider — exactly what we need to mobilize the federal government, fight through bottlenecks and help state governments that are now overwhelmed. He rattled off a list of actions that he would take in his interview and later in the town hall, including fully implementing the Defense Production Act and setting up a federal bank initiative to ensure that small businesses get their loans. (He noted on ABC that Bank of America “came out and said unless you already have loans with us, unless you already have worked with us, unless you have a credit card with us we’re not going to — even though they’re government-guaranteed loans, we’re not going to process those loans.”) He wants to hear what Trump is doing to ramp up testing and why he is not reopening the Obamacare exchanges. A president, Biden effectively tells us, knows what the heck he is doing and how to do it.
Third, Biden spoke up on behalf of Navy Capt. Brett Crozier, who was relieved of his command last week after complaining that his sailors were trapped on a ship as the coronavirus raged. “I think it’s close to criminal the way they’re dealing with this guy,” Biden declared in his interview. He said Crozier should get a commendation, not dismissal from his command. Biden comes down on the side of saving lives, not covering up problems. Trump continually punishes truth-tellers (e.g. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, intelligence community inspector general Michael Atkinson) because his highest aim is making himself look good. Biden instead reminds us: A president creates an atmosphere where truth-telling is encouraged, and a leader’s highest obligation is to look out for the people he or she has the responsibility to protect.
Fourth, Biden explained on ABC that he was moving forward with his vice-presidential selection process (graciously telling Sanders what he was doing, a remarkable courtesy considering Sanders’s refusal to drop his futile campaign) and preparing his party for a possible “virtual” convention. “The idea of holding a convention is going to be necessary, but we may not be able to put 10,000, 20,000, 30,000 people in one place,” he said. He also made a pitch to secure our election process whether by mail or other means. “[How] are we going to do that? How are we going to make it available to everybody?” In each of these areas, Biden argued that we should “never, never let our democracy take second fiddle. ... [We] can both have a democracy and elections and at the same time protect the public health.” Presidents plan ahead to secure our democracy; they don’t view a crisis as an opportunity to seize power or imperil democracy.
Finally, on his video town hall sitting next to his wife, Jill, the former vice president spoke with families and answered questions on the coronavirus, giving them and the country an opportunity to see what sort of person he is. Introducing themselves to the children on the town hall as “Pop” and “Nana” — the names they use with their grandchildren — the Bidens projected the qualities we used to take for granted in first families. Biden’s empathy for those who had lost loved ones, his calm demeanor, his quiet optimism (“I’m confident we will all get through it”) and his gratitude for those who serve in the military and elsewhere provided a reassuring break from the dust storms Trump throws up every time he speaks. When Biden deferred to former surgeon general Vivek Murthy (who, despite Trump’s efforts to promote hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for covid-19, cautioned that scientists are studying but have not yet approved the drug for that purpose), he reminds us that a president is not necessarily the most informed on every issue. Instead, Biden knows what he does not know and knows how to find reliable expertise. A president, Biden reminded us, needs to be the calmest person in every room and must be able to console, comfort and give fellow Americans hope.
Biden has not been the perfect candidate; he will not be the perfect president. But when voters care to look, they will find someone who can plausibly fill the role of commander in chief and, even more important, can embody the values and display the conduct we want from our leaders. He already demonstrates the depth of character that Trump lacks.