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The full essence of Joe Biden's candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination has been that he offers the best bet to defeat Donald Trump.

That's owing to name identification, Barack Obama affiliation and a working-class connection in Pennsylvania and vicinity.

Biden remains possessed of all those advantages. But a question is arising as to whether he has any responsibility to offer more--to emerge as a contemporary candidate who can execute in today's arena, embody an abiding modern principle, advance a relevant message, and generally appeal beyond the biography of presumed and passive electability.

If so, if Biden indeed bears that responsibility, then he and--more importantly--the Democrats are in trouble.

In terms of performance beyond the long-existing biography, Biden has been an abject bust thus far.

Consider merely the recent case in point of his declaring a certain chumminess with old Southern racist Senate colleagues back in the good ol' days--the 1970s.

It is a scenario of self-inflicted wound turned to ineptitude turned to the weakness of apology turned to tired old consummate political expediency.

And that is your best play against Trump?

In the offending incident, Biden was speaking to a high-dollar group. His handlers were doing what Biden handlers must do whenever he speaks, which is holding their breath until it's time to exhale and cringe.

Joe was explaining that, in his early Senate days, he could work with philosophically antithetical senators for the greater good. He was lamenting that we we'd lost that ability and saying he could lead us back toward it.

So far, so good.

But then, as is his custom, Biden became enamored of his voice and his deft making of a point. He kept going, turning his handlers from breath-holding to recoiling.

He wound up essentially saying that he came of age in the Senate with those Southern racists and white supremacists and segregationists and that--fundamental human differences aside--he got along with them well enough to work with them on other issues.

What he said was true, and not as horrible as it sounded. But it sounded horrible. And campaign politics is more a matter of how things look and sound than how they are--a truth a man whose big-time political service dates over five decades ought to know and respect by now.

The word went out across the land that Biden had told a Democratic group that he was tight and thick with Southern racists.

The most predictable element of the first round of Democratic debates was that U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, desperate to peel black support off Biden and toward her, confronted Joe about such a statement, saying she found it "hurtful."

Joe fumbled in response, just as he fumbled in denying the basic demonstrated fact that he had resisted court-ordered busing to achieve racial segregation in the '70s and '80s.

So, to summarize: He talked too much. He talked unwisely. He defended incompetently.

Now he's been briefed on polls that show Harris to have hit him where it hurt--on his essence, meaning his electability, which becomes less evident and less inevitable the more he fails to either deflect or vigorously defend against the not-bad Triple-A pitching of Harris.

He would have been better off leaving Southern segregationists out of his ode to collegiality in the first place. A 40-year-old truth in 40-year-old context need not be invoked 40 years later in a campaign about the next four years to come.

But, having gone there, Biden would have been well-served in the debate either in saying he had erred and was sorry or by defiantly declaring that, yeah, he hated the sin of racism but could try to work with the sinner otherwise--on some other bill of interest to the country or his constituency, because that's the political process, using one hand to hold one's nose and the other to shake a colleague's hand, considering that a bad senator gets one vote just as a good senator does.

How about this for a rehearsed line: "A president has to work with a lot of creeps. I've had a lot of practice"?

But what Biden did was behave as the consummate political being that he is. He poll-tested, then tactically reacted. He embarked on the transparent and tired ploy of an atonement tour.

He found a suitable audience and said that he was sorry he had said that tolerant thing about those racists and that his remark didn't demonstrate who or what he really was.

At this rate, Biden probably will ride in a school bus in a few days to apologize for having gotten caught opposing school busing back in the day.

Is this what the country needs for the fateful fall of 2020--Trump's lies and madman tweets versus Joe's blunders and poll-driven pleas for forgiveness?

Might there be someone younger than both, more honorable than Trump and less a reckless motormouth than Biden?

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

Web only on 07/10/2019


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Archived Comments

  • reality1963
    July 10, 2019 at 6:28 a.m.

    I am sure many feel the same about Dummett.

  • RBear
    July 10, 2019 at 6:28 a.m.

    A long column about Biden only to say, "Might there be someone younger than both, more honorable than Trump and less a reckless motormouth than Biden?"
    Simple answer, yes. Let's see how this plays out. I love how everyone, including those on the right, have picked the nominee this early in the cycle and after one debate that seemed more like the parade of contestants at a beauty pageant.
    A lot of time ahead. A lot of policy to discuss. A lot of old remarks to uncover. A lot of Trump juvenile attacks to endure. But, we're no closer to a nominee today than we were 6 months ago and that's okay.

  • PopMom
    July 10, 2019 at 7:10 a.m.

    Unfortunately, due to the fact that our president is elected via the electoral college instead of popular vote, about five states will determine who is our next president: Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Arizona. If Biden fades, Klobuchar and Hickenlooper appear to be our best bets at winning over moderates in these states. They currently are little known, but that may change. Klobuchar could be helped by Minnesotans in Michigan and Wisconsin. Hickenlooper was originally from Pennsylvania and presumably would do well in Arizona. Both moderates would appeal to Floridians. Rbear, though, is correct that we still are a long way off from the primaries. While Biden looked bad in the debate, he looks good in tv interviews and rallies. Also, people just like him. It's hard to argue with his current polling numbers against Trump. Also, don't count out Mayor Pete who is a fabulous speaker. Except for the far right, people don't care about homosexuality that much any more. Steve Bulloch, who came in late, could make a late surge. Also, Epstein could decide to turn on Trump which could totally change the whole game.

  • RBear
    July 10, 2019 at 7:36 a.m.

    PM I'm not sure if you've read about the food fight going on in the PA Republican Party chair race. It seems the Trump clan has invaded PA to heavy hand the election for a Trump supporter. PA Republicans are basically telling the clan to stay out of the mix and let the residents of the state deal with their own issues.

  • MS6321
    July 10, 2019 at 8:09 a.m.

    The last Democrat I voted for was Jimmy Carter. Big mistake! Our nation cannot afford to elect a Democrat or Socialist president. To do so would be total financial, political and moral destruction of the U.S.

  • RBear
    July 10, 2019 at 8:13 a.m.

    SMMLV3 says, "To do so would be total financial, political and moral destruction of the U.S." And yet the two most solid economic periods in recent US history were under Democratic presidents. Clinton presided over an economy that was so robust, we ran a budget surplus. Obama pulled our economy out of the Great Recession under a Republican president.
    A lot of false FUD spread by a right winger.

  • Jfish
    July 10, 2019 at 8:34 a.m.

    What is truly a shame with the Harris attack on Biden is that Biden was Obama's VP for 8 years and Obama has not said one good word on Biden's behalf regarding the racist claims. Biden (and Bernie for that matter also) had better toughen up. Biden should have told Harris to go jump in the nearest lake with her busing claims. Let's be honest, she wasn't exactly raised in the deep south. John, I thought you were all about telling the truth even if it sounds horrible, was that not what Biden did?

  • Packman
    July 10, 2019 at 9:12 a.m.

    Biden is the poster child for everything the Alexandria Occasional Cortex wing of the democrat party hates - white, old, male, privileged, Christian, career politician. Does anyone really see him winning the primary? If so, the AOC wing will be so disenchanted with the process they will refuse to vote in the general election, handing the win to President Trump.
    The ONE candidate that could defeat President Trump is Tulsi Gabbard. She checks most of the superficial liberal boxes (female, young, person of color) and supports Roe v Wade. Her downside is she's the most conservative of the bunch (loves our military, understands the fallacy of identity politics, and is generally supportive tax cuts and deregulation). Tulsi Gabbard is the person I, as a Trump supporter, most fear. Even worse, I like her and wouldn't lose any sleep if she defeated President Trump.

  • Rightside
    July 10, 2019 at 9:19 a.m.

    Rep. Eric Swalwell dropped out of the 2020 presidential race after struggling to break out in a jammed Democratic primary field.
    The Dem Circus loses a clown. His supporter is very upset.
    I would say that Kirsten Gillibrand will be next, but she’s so stupid that she doesn’t understand that polling at 0% means she doesn’t have any support.

    “Middle Class Joe” is now rolling in dough. Former Vice President Joe Biden and wife, Jill, raked in more than $15.6 million in the two years since leaving the White House, according to newly released financial disclosure forms.

    House Oversight and Reform Committee Democrats tweeted, and then deleted, a picture Tuesday of an Obama-era migrant detention center to attack Republicans ahead of a Wednesday hearing on President Donald Trump’s policies of “putting migrant kids in cages.” On Tuesday, the House Reform and Oversight Committee Democrats used a picture from 2014, during the Obama administration.

  • LR1955
    July 10, 2019 at 9:54 a.m.

    “Obama pulled our economy out of the Great Recession under a Republican president.“
    And the cost was piled on top of the middle class.

    Right now the Dems have a few that can hit an occasional high note but don’t really have a overall good electable winner. And there really isn’t a lot of time rbear.