Interestingly, when speaking of his intention to advance racial equality, Biden said, “I start from a place you would not expect.” Trump, Biden argued, has done “enormous damage to the United States” in exacerbating racial tensions and in buddying up to “Putin, Xi and every mini-dictator,” referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping. It is an argument reminiscent of the Cold War — when our civil rights record, some activists argued, reduced U.S. stature and left the Soviet Union a cudgel with which to bash us. Biden got right to the nub of the problem: “Donald Trump is the exact worst president we could have at this moment.” He has, Biden argued, “from day one” fanned the flames of racial resentment. “When I began this campaign I said we were in a battle for the soul of the country,” Biden said. “We sure as hell are.” He maintained that, as with other issues, the country is at an “inflection” point: “The American people have had their blinders taken off” by the grotesque killing of George Floyd.
In response to my question about child care, he stated emphatically, “It’s a gigantic economic issue.” Biden’s overall message seemed to be that he is ready to spend more on schools and invest in access to affordable child care, without which workers cannot return to work. He spoke about assembling “best practices” on child care and paying child-care workers more.
Ranging over his economic vision, Biden made clear he thinks there is an “understanding there’s only certain things big things that government can do that the private sector by itself can’t do.” Eisenhower’s interstate highway project, for example, today would be labeled “industrial policy.” Biden obviously understands we have neglected our public sector. He emphasized “We’re not talking about winners and losers. We’re talking about creating strong stable sources of growth and the power of a new generation of innovators. . . . We’ve always been able to solve big problems,” He added, “I don’t think anybody thinks we can stand by and assume the private sector is going to take care of global warming."
On the topic of voter suppression, he made clear it was very much on his mind and the campaign’s agenda. “Frankly, this keeps me up most nights . . . making sure everyone who wants to vote can vote and making sure every vote is counted,” he said. He spoke in general terms of amassing a large operation to watch the polls, offer assistance to states and “make sure voters know every legal option is available to vote.” He argued, “We should have same day registration. We should have early voting. We should a whole range of things.” His message was clearly that we need more options — not fewer — and that the Senate must follow the House’s lead in providing more funding for states. He derided Trump who falsely asserts voting by mail leads to fraud while “he sits behind the desk and he does his primary vote from Washington.”
On the subject of the Senate and the filibuster, the longtime senator adopted a wait-and-see attitude. He still holds out hope that with Trump gone there will be Republicans willing to work with him on items like infrastructure. “I think it’s gonna depend on how obstreperous they become,” he said, acknowledging, “ I have not supported the elimination of the filibuster because it’s been used as often . . . the other way around [for Republicans benefit], but I think you have to just take a look at it.” He conceded it is now considered “outrageous” in some circles, but “I think I have a pretty good record of being able to pull together Democrats and Republicans.” In what is sure to aggravate those who think bipartisanship and negotiation are antiquated, he affirmed, “I’ve been fairly good at understanding what the limitations of a senator and try to figure out how you can help them” to help you without endangering their political position. He was quite optimistic that the Democrats may get to 55 in the Senate, which would surely be a wake-up call for Republicans.
One had the impression that Biden senses the potential for not only a big win but a unique moment akin to the 1930s. “I do think we’ve reached the point where one of those trite phrases everybody uses . . . it’s a real inflection point in American history and I don’t believe it’s unlike what [President Franklin] Roosevelt [faced].” He continued, “I think we have an enormous opportunity to make some really systemic changes relates to racism but institutional ways in which we handle things And I think the country is really ready.”
Biden has successfully navigated a course between reassuring people outside his base that he is a practical moderate and reassuring progressives he understands the enormous opportunity he will have. First, he must win and win big so as to throw fear in the Republicans and claim a mandate, but if he does, do not expect him to stand pat.