Joe Biden possesses the elixir of ordinariness, despite the appearance of having picked his hair and teeth out of a catalog. One of the traits of ordinariness is inconsistency. Another is hypocrisy. These are pardonable flaws among the ordinary, but we expect our leaders to at least remember their lines. Biden’s performance this week shows why he might win the Democratic nomination, but still lose the 2020 election.
On Wednesday, Biden and Cory Booker attended Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, to launch an opportunist attack on Donald Trump for, in Biden’s words, ‘fanning the flames of white supremacy’. On Thursday, after Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke both said that Trump is a ‘white supremacist’, Biden was campaigning in heavily white Iowa at the heavily white Iowa State Fair. Asked if he would describe Trump as a ‘white supremacist’, the heavily white Biden refused, and fell back on his Grandpa Smurf routine.
Biden insisted that he thinks and speaks for himself — ‘I’m Joe Biden,’ he confirmed to himself and his interlocutor — and objected to having words put in his mouth by a journalist. Fair enough; the words that are put into Biden’s mouth are put there by his speech writers. But what does Biden really think?
Does Biden really believe that Trump is a flame-fanning racist who has, as Biden keeps saying, ‘more in common with George Wallace than George Washington’? If he did, it would be grossly hypocritical of him to refuse to confirm this, just because he didn’t want to dent his lead over the other Democratic candidates in heavily white Iowa. In other words, is Biden just mouthing this anti-racist stuff because he hopes it’ll placate the young and woke Democratic left, so he can win the nomination and get on with the business of taking Donald Trump roughly behind the gym?
We can’t know what Biden believes, other than that he deserves the presidency. We do know, however, what Biden thinks, because the slack-jawed dodderer keeps telling us.
Biden also took a shot at Trump this week for a ‘low-powered’ denunciation of last week’s shootings. On Thursday, high-energy Biden couldn’t even remember his own slogan, and delivered ‘We choose truth over facts’, instead of ‘We choose truth over lies.’
A psychologist would have fun speculating about that slip, and its suggestion that Biden knows he’s projecting ‘truth’ — ‘truth’ in the emotional, feel-good Grandpa Smurf sense of the word — and not the facts of what he really believes, which seems to be a liberalism bland by the standards of 1968, let alone 2020.
And then on Thursday, Biden ad-libbed another of his racial one-liners: ‘Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,’ the historically white president told the audience at an Asian & Latino Coalition PAC event in historically white Iowa.
Biden’s campaign said that he misspoke, and maybe he did. Maybe he wanted to say what he really thinks about race. From what he said on Thursday, he thinks that ‘poor’ means ignorant and non-white, and ‘white’ means ‘bright and talented’.
Of course, most of the media will gloss Biden’s implicit bigotry as a ‘gaffe’. After a lengthy pause, he attempted to correct his screw-up by adding ‘wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.’ But if Trump had said something similar about the distribution of race and intelligence, or even said anything at all about race, most of the media would have called him a ‘white supremacist’. Hypocrisy and inconsistency are unfortunately unavoidable in ordinary life. In politics, they’re elevated to strategy; in most American media, to ethical imperatives — ‘We place [our] truth over the facts.’
From which we conclude that the 2020 election will almost certainly be fought between two white men of a certain age, both equally handicapped by the mental habits of their racial and generational cohort. We’re still a year away from the election, and so the polls mean nothing. The economy, however, might mean a lot. So might Trump retaining his record as a president who avoided dumb foreign wars, and Biden’s record as an enthusiast for invading Afghanistan and Iraq, and for trashing Libya. But what will really count is the debates.
The winner, to paraphrase Biden, will be the brightest and most talented speaker. Now, who really believes Biden, the amiably gaffe-prone mediocrity, will be more capable of pivoting his argument and spitting out a one-liner without jamming his foot in his mouth?
Dominic Green is Life & Arts Editor of Spectator USA.