While the country has been living through its Kafkaesque unraveling, Joe Biden has been undergoing a metamorphosis.
As Biden might say: What a bunch of malarkey.
The new narrative goes like this: Yes, Biden was a realistic reformer who proclaimed, as recently as his last debate with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), that people were looking “for results, not a revolution.” But recent events have rocked him to his core, and now Biden has fundamentally rethought his purpose on the planet and is prepared to be the “transformational” president the country needs.
The media accounts of this are quick to note that Biden’s rebirth is mostly rhetorical at this point — well, entirely rhetorical, actually. But he’s using a lot of sweeping language (probably even the word “sweeping”), and his campaign promises that the policies to match are coming soon. Very, very soon.
And what are these policies he’ll rush to enact in his first 100 days? Should we expect Biden to propose a massive wealth tax like the ones proposed by his rivals, Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)? Doubt it. Medicare-for-all? He’s already said no. Guaranteed basic income, or a bunch of new federal agencies? Don’t count on it.
There will be some aspirational proposals, no doubt. But what’s really going on here is that Biden’s campaign team is looking around at the state of the country and guessing that a lot of independent voters who got behind Donald Trump in 2016 will have a hard time voting for him again. Which gives the campaign an opportunity to shore up support from Sanders and Warren devotees, who are thought to be less than jazzed about Biden.
(Although, given the visceral contempt these voters have for Trump, I’m guessing the number of Democrats who would have voted for Sanders but will actually refuse to vote for Biden in November is probably about equal to the number of antifa members infiltrating protests right now. Which is to say: small.)
So Biden’s camp is pushing a squishy narrative about his newfound radicalism, based on nothing but a bunch of speechifying, hoping to unify the party before the fall, when you can bet there will be precious little talk of anything that sounds like radicalism. And we in the media appear quite willing to help.
Rhetoric aside, Biden’s appeal remains the same as it ever was. He represents a much-needed return to normalcy and a bridge to what’s next. I like to think of Biden as the house-flipper candidate — you know, one of these guys who buys up cheap real estate and turns it around for a profit.
There’s a grand old house in the neighborhood — let’s imagine it’s painted white, with a portico — that has been misused and left to rot, occupied by some pretty undesirable squatters. Biden’s pitch is simple: He’s going to get the house at auction, roust the squatters, rip out the garish fixtures and mirrored ceilings, and restore the place to its rightful condition.
Then he’s going to put it back on the market in four years, having done the neighborhood a tremendous service.
Sure, there were other folks who might have done something more extravagant or exciting with the house, given the chance. But all of them had credit problems, or their offers sounded too good to be true, or they were just too young to sign the paperwork.
And so Biden is what we’ve got, and nobody is seriously asking him to tear down the house and raise up some architectural marvel. No, what we’re asking for, and what we’ll get if he wins, is an end to the ruin and a chance to redeem the country.
One glance at Biden now, looking all of his 77 years, tells you that he’s not the most likely guy to launch a legislative blitzkrieg at the heart of capitalism. He is not a man who, to go back to Franz Kafka for a moment, will edit his own soul according to the fashion.
He is what he has always been — a champion of social justice and the middle class, a man in the thrall of large emotions that sometimes cause him to misspeak, a patriot and a pragmatist who meanders but always seems to find his conscience in the end.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s precisely what the moment demands.
Anything else is just rhetoric, full stop.