That’s what Joe Biden supposedly is to many Democrats. The safe choice.
But is he?
I come at this idea not from the perspective of an ideologue or a purist, and most definitely not as a Bernie Bro. I adore Joe Biden. I think he is a fine man. The recent controversy over his space-invading has not changed that. I have paid to see him speak. I think he’d make a good president. I think he could restore a semblance of normalcy and press pause on this awful era of trumpism. I think he could win.
I even agree if you look at it a certain way – and you don’t have to squint to do it – that he is the safe choice. Here’s the problem with the safe choice.
The safe choice loses.
In my adult lifetime I have seen two Democrats win the presidency. One was a philandering governor from a red state, born from a broken home. The other was a black man whose last named rhymed with the most famous terrorist in modern history.
Other than being Democrats, they had little in common. Save for one thing: neither were the safe choice. Clinton was scandal-plagued from the jump. It was hard to find a woman in Arkansas that he hadn’t rubbed up against a little too purposefully. As for Obama, he was a Hawaii born-Kenyan-Muslim-communist-socialist-with a racist Christian preacher who “palled around with terrorists.” I know none of that makes any sense, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Republicans and their attacks it’s that they don’t have to make sense.
Yet, somehow, both of these unlikely Democrats won. Clinton overcame himself and a nervous electorate to beat an incumbent president who was not only a war hero, but had just won a war. Obama convinced enough of white America that he wasn’t a “scary black man”, defeated the (Hillary) Clinton machine in the primary, and then took down a war hero of his own a few months later.
How did they do that? Bill Clinton and Barack Obama did have one other thing in common. They were both uncommonly gifted candidates. They were able to connect and “move the crowd.” For all the hatred that came at them, they were magnetic, incredibly brilliant men who never lacked for an answer on policy. They might be geniuses. I mean that.
Let’s contrast them with the Democratic candidates who lost since I came of voting age. Al Gore, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton.
Fine people, one and all. I am convinced each of them would have been better for the country than who they lost to. While there are genuine differences between the trio of “this close – but not quite” – candidates, they have one thing that puts them in the same box.
They were all considered the safe choice.
Gore was Clinton’s VP. He was running on a good economy (if away from his scandalized boss). He was and is a brilliant man – he was not inspiring. And yes, I know he lost the election to the Supreme Court and not so much to George W. Bush, but it never should have been so close.
Kerry was practically Gore redux, only he lost by a clearer margin (although I think W has many a reason to be thankful for the voter suppression antics of Ohio Secretary of State, Ken Blackwell). Again though, it shouldn’t have been so close. Kerry was a war hero taking on a probable draft-dodger who had made a complete hash of the Iraq War.
Of these three leaders of failed presidential campaigns, Hillary deserves the most asterisks. Not only did she have to run against the most shameless opponent in modern history (if not ever), she had to battle the FBI, Russia, and sexism. All while carrying around the heavy weight known as the “Clinton baggage,” most of which belonged to her husband. After all of that, she had to contend with the deeply undemocratic electoral college. Like Gore, she garnered more overall votes than her counterpart, yet still lost the election.
Even so, compared to a septuagenarian socialist who wasn’t (and still really isn’t) a Democrat, she was, again, the safe choice.
Which brings me back to Joe Biden. A 76-year-old affable walking gaffe machine who ran for president twice before and – on his own steam – couldn’t get out of single digits in a single primary state. Of course, this is a different time – Biden is much more of a known quantity now. Not so much for anything he’s done. His advancement to a higher status was accomplished on the back of Barack Obama.
Without Obama, he’s “Handsy Joe,” the two-time loser from one of the tiniest states in the union. Is that fair? No. Doesn’t matter.
This is who we are being told is the safe choice.
I have my doubts. That’s not to say I couldn’t be wrong. Maybe an ancient old white guy that reminds you of your jovial grandfather is just the thing to remove this blight on the presidency known as Donald Trump.
People will point to the polls – all of which say Biden is the front-runner in the Democratic primary and the best person to take down Trump in the general. But here’s the problem:
Current polls mean nothing.
At this point, over 18 months away from the election, polls are borderline useless. They are about name recognition and little else. Voters are still learning who the other candidates are. When asked, people are not going to tell you they are going to vote for someone they have never heard of.
Don’t believe me? Ask President Bush. Jeb Bush. Wait. You can’t. Because he didn’t win. Or you could ask the 2008 version of Hillary Clinton – the one that won the primary and beat Rudolph Giuliani to become the first female president. Wait. You…well, you know the rest.
Look, nobody knows nothin’. How many people had President Obama or President Trump in their respective 2008 and 2016 election pools a year and a half away from the general election?
That’s kind of my point, though. The things we think we know, we don’t – like who the “safe choice” is. It’s even hard to be sure that Biden is all that sure about himself. Let’s face it, the man has been considering running for four years now and he’s still starring in the longest running version of Hamlet I’ve ever seen (and he’s too old for the part). If he can’t commit to running, how can we commit to Joe? Because once he runs, this isn’t going to get easier for him. It’s going to get harder.
Joe stepping on his own tongue is not only inevitable, but likely to happen in volume. Hell, even some of us who love him think of him as “Crazy Joe.” Wait until Trump rolls it out on the regular with all the ammunition Biden himself will soon provide. Other than lying and putting his name on buildings, Trump is good at just one thing: Ridiculing his opponents. “Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted,” “Low Energy Jeb,” and of course, “Crooked Hillary.” Yes, it was juvenile, but it worked – and Joe Biden is far too easy a target. He practically paints the bulls-eye on his own chest.
Let me be clear once again, I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I know is that I will be voting for who I believe in most in the primary, and I’m sorry to say that’s not Joe. If my “unsafe” candidate doesn’t win, I will gladly pull the lever in November for anyone not named Donald Trump.
If that’s Joe Biden, I will pull said lever with pride. He’s a good man. And even if you don’t agree with that, he is inarguably a far, far better man than the one he would be running against.
He’s also the “safe” choice, they say, but according to recent history the safe choice has proven to be anything but.
When I think of Joe Biden running as the Democratic nominee for the 2020 election, it keeps me up at night.