Jonah Goldberg: Is Joe Biden really the answer to Democrats’ problems?
The wheels haven’t come off Hillary Rodham Clinton’s bus quite yet, but they’re getting wobblier. Hence the Joe Biden boomlet. As a columnist, never mind as a conservative, I think it’s a fantastic idea. (A Biden vs. Trump debate would cause a national popcorn shortage.) But is Biden really the answer to the Democrats’ problem?
As with any malady, the right treatment hinges on the correct diagnosis. You don’t recommend better diet and exercise for a shark bite. Biden is a treatment for one symptom, not the whole disease.
The latest ABC/Washington Post poll numbers underscore the continuing crisis. Only 39 percent of voters find Clinton honest and trustworthy; 56 percent don’t. Asked whether Clinton understands the problems faced by “people like you,” only 46 percent said yes.
Some Democrats believe the secret-email-server story is driving everything, and if she can just get that behind her, all will be well. But more people are starting to recognize that the email story is a symptom of Clinton’s bigger problems. If she had the political skills or charisma to explain her way out of this mess, she would have done so already. She doesn’t and she hasn’t.
But Clinton’s problems are also indicative of the Democrats’ more systemic challenges. Specifically that Barack Obama is a deeply polarizing figure who has been fairly disastrous for his party.
Of course, liberals can make the case that he’s been great for the nation or for liberalism — or both. But there really is no disputing that he’s been terrible for the Democratic Party, costing Democrats control of Congress, state legislatures and governorships.
“No president in modern times has presided over so disastrous a stretch for his party, at almost every level of politics,” Jeff Greenfield wrote in Politico. “It’s almost a crime,” Democratic Party Vice Chair Donna Brazile told Greenfield. “We have been absolutely decimated at the state and local level.”
Obama’s presidency has been the most consistently polarizing in the history of modern polling. He is popular with partisan Democrats and few others. But that can be misleading. According to a Rasmussen poll, 86 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of independents think the country is on the wrong track. Democrats tend to agree, albeit by a smaller margin (48 percent to 42 percent). But one need only compare the sad turnout for some Clinton events with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ monster rallies to see that the enthusiasm even among Democrats is against the status quo. And Clinton is nothing if not a status quo candidate. Perhaps not in all of her positions, but certainly in terms of her persona and “brand.”
The same political party rarely wins three presidential elections in a row, and when it does, it is only when the country is satisfied with the party’s direction and the incumbent is popular.
So let’s sum up the symptoms. The country is in a very sour mood and searching for change. Populist anti-establishment discontent runs like a prairie fire through the grass roots of both parties. The incumbent president is polarizing and unpopular. The Democratic bench has been cleared of viable young alternatives who could successfully promise a major course correction. (Greenfield notes that when Obama leaves office, he’ll pretty much be the only Democratic leader not eligible for Social Security.) The Democratic front-runner is a stiff, inauthentic establishment figurehead.
And the solution to these problems is … Joe Biden, the 72-year-old sitting vice president who ran unsuccessfully for the job twice? Really?
Yes, Biden clears the curb-height hurdle of being more charismatic than Clinton. But Biden, first elected to the Senate in 1972, is arguably even more of an establishment figure than Clinton. Moreover, Clinton has at least a little room to distance herself from Obama. Biden has none. In fact, he gives every indication that he thinks the Obama administration has been a story of one brilliant success after another.
Even if you forget his other problems — the logorrhea, the gaffes and the plagiarism — he is the ultimate “stay the course” candidate. And that’s the last thing anyone needs, the Democrats most of all.