Joe Biden has a problem we all want to someday have, the problem of longevity.
Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972, the year of the Watergate break-in, and first ran for president, disastrously, back in 1988. As if to affirm that 80 is the new 70, 70 the new 60 and so on, were Biden to win the Democratic nomination he would square off at age 77 against a president who will be 74.
In 2016 we had perhaps the two most unpopular presidential nominees in our nation's history; in 2020 we could have the two oldest, with a cumulative mileage beyond a century and a half.
Biden's primary competition for the nomination at this point, at least in the premature polls, is Bernie Sanders, 14 months his senior and representative of the radical socialist wing of the Democratic Party in the same way Biden represents what's left of its center-left.
But Biden's centrism is also something of a mirage within this context because it is purely relative and a consequence of his longevity. Once a standard if somewhat-wacky liberal with foot-in-mouth disease, he now appears moderate only because his party has become so much less so over time.
The Biden who ran for president over 30 years ago, and even again in 2008, held views considered acceptably liberal at the time but now considered reactionary by Democrats deranged by Donald Trump's presidency. Even Barack Obama, perhaps the most left-leaning president in our nation's history (at least on social and cultural issues), would be considered an arch-conservative by the hair-on-fire Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar crowd.
What was mainstream then has become embarrassing for Democrats now--the Bill Clinton of "safe, legal, and rare" abortion, "don't ask, don't tell," Sister Souljah and welfare reform would likely be considered a white supremacist.
Precisely because he has an incriminating paper trail extending back nearly a half-century and is a white Christian (Catholic no less!) heterosexual male in a party that posits white Christian heterosexual males as the focus of all evil in the modern world, Biden is going to have to do (already is doing) a lot of groveling and apologizing in coming months to prove how "woke" he is.
As a general election candidate he might be the most formidable possible opponent for Trump, particularly with white working-class voters in key states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan. He could promise a "reset" after the chaos of recent years, a more reassuring form of leadership after all the Trump fatigue.
Indeed, that someone once referred to as "Crazy Uncle Joe" and "Obama's impeachment insurance" could plausibly promise a "return to normalcy" in American politics tells us how abnormal American politics has become.
The only problem is, of course, the primary, and the manner in which the "centrifugal" dynamic typical of such contests is likely to be even more powerful for Democrats this time around--whoever can win the primary might be so far left as to have no chance in November, and anyone (like Biden) with a chance in November might not be far enough left to win the primary.
But this is also where the Biden-Stacey Abrams rumors come into play, suggesting a resort to an ingenious, albeit risky, gambit to satisfy the skeptical lefty grass roots.
Abrams is already something of a martyr for the radical left for having been allegedly robbed of the governorship of Georgia (a red state Democrats think has turned purple) by Republican voter suppression; a status reflected in her being chosen to give the party's response to Trump's State of the Union address.
It would, of course, be unprecedented for a presidential contender to choose a running mate 10 months out from the Iowa caucus, let alone one with no experience beyond a state legislature, but desperate times require desperate measures, and Trump himself is nothing if not unprecedented.
The claim that Abrams is unqualified to be only a "heartbeat" away from the presidency due to lack of experience loses a bit of its power when considering Trump's complete lack of public or military service prior to taking the oath of the nation's highest public office.
We now live in the age of political celebrity where an extensive political resume is more liability than asset.
Ultimately, what would matter most is that Abrams checks off all of the boxes in the identity-politics sweepstakes that Biden can't--young, black, female, and reliably woke/radical left.
The willingness of the radicals to accept such a move might also be enhanced were Biden, as some are suggesting, to promise to serve just a single term, thereby alleviating concerns over the age issue and setting up a Vice President Abrams as the 2024 Democratic front-runner.
The Bernie bros would be furious, and it would mean the end of "Betomania" and the political ambitions of Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and the rest of the occupants of the Democratic clown car, but an intriguing "deal" nonetheless: Put up with Biden in order to get rid of Trump, and then the dream far-left ticket of Abrams and AOC, just barely legally eligible (35) in October 2024.
Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.
Editorial on 04/01/2019
Print Headline: BRADLEY GITZ: The age of Biden