“America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums but normalcy...” — Warren G. Harding, 1920
I like Joe Biden.
His gaffes, his mistreatment of Anita Hill and even his kissy-face behavior with segregationists notwithstanding, I think he’s a decent guy. If he is the Democratic nominee next year, I’ll vote for him — twice, if I can manage it.
If that sounds like enthusiasm, it isn’t. There are cartoon characters I’d vote for if it meant cleansing the White House of its current infestation. So while I’ll support Biden if it comes to that, I hope it doesn’t.
For all his earnestness, the former vice president, I think, misreads the needs of the nation at this juncture. Like Warren G. Harding 99 years ago, Biden seems to think that what America needs now is to be soothed. Granted, that idea took Harding to the White House, albeit for a presidency primarily recalled for its short duration (he died two years in) and massive corruption.
With Biden, any presidency that premise produces is likely to also be unsatisfactory, though for different reasons. A Biden victory would be an opportunity squandered, a chance for systemic change traded for an implicit promise to take America back to “normal.” That’s what Biden is selling, after all. He keeps touting his ability to work with Republicans, appealing for civility, reaching out to GOP voters. “Some of you voted for Donald Trump,” he said at a recent event in Iowa. “My party stopped talking to you.”
The fact is, people voted for Trump not because they felt neglected but because, for many, he reflected their prejudices. That’s according to empirical evidence. So what Biden intends as a plea for political amity is actually an act of political cowardice.
See, we left normal a long time ago, and it wasn’t because Democrats were mean. We left it because Republicans made a conscious and calculated decision to absent themselves from the responsibilities of citizenship and governance. They broke this country, one tea party rally, one birther lie, one government shutdown, one voter suppression law, one stolen Supreme Court seat at a time.
And the idea that Democrats should make it their priority to get us back to “normal” is worse than naive because it rewards and absolves the GOP for years of party-first obstructionism. “Normal” is what got us here. So rather than beg them to hold hands with the rest of us as we try to get back to where we were, let’s map a path to someplace new and challenge them to keep up.
Because there is opportunity here, a chance to build a new normal superior to the old. Maybe in the new normal, American ingenuity is unleashed in a man-to-the-moon campaign to save the world from climate disaster. Maybe in the new normal, higher education is accessible because student loans don’t loom like Kilimanjaro. Maybe in the new normal, you can go to the movies, the bar or the school without fear of being mowed down by some disaffected idiot because common-sense gun laws have taken hold. Maybe in the new normal, the cages stand open, the concentration camps empty, because we have embraced sensible immigration reform. Maybe in the new normal, health care is a human right.
And maybe all it takes is a president with the guts to lead the way — and a party with the courage of its convictions. So Biden should be less concerned about being friends with Republicans than about building a better country for them — for all of us. He wants to be a president who takes us back to where we were.
I’d prefer one who takes us forward to where we ought to be.