November 3, 2020


The man who would be president (PETER BROWNE, 3 NOVEMBER 2020, Inside Story)

Running through Osnos's vivid and compelling account of the candidate's career is a sense of Biden's seemingly indomitable drive, and the torrent of words that has accompanied it. It's not so much that he seems incapable of reflecting on his shifts in position -- he has talked about his greatest regrets, including his support for Clinton's disastrous repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which laid the groundwork for the global financial crisis -- it's more that his momentum happens fortuitously to have taken him on a journey roughly in tune with shifts in mainstream sentiment, which increasingly sees the American Dream as a chimera. African Americans might be troubled by his support for the crime bill, says the former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Cornell William Brooks, but they "measure him as a historical whole, and by the stature of his sincerity."

Osnos shows how Biden's forward momentum has been fuelled by a series of immense personal challenges: his childhood stammer; the deaths of his young wife, their baby daughter and, much later, his eldest son; the near-fatal cranial aneurysm after abandoning his first bid for the presidency; his surviving son's drug and alcohol addictions. It's little wonder that he seems to keep running simply to stay still.

But his longwindedness and shifting positions can lead people to underestimate him. When Barack Obama first heard Biden speaking at length during a Senate committee hearing in 2005, writes Osnos, the future president "passed an aide a three-word note: 'Shoot. Me. Now.'" Not a propitious start to a relationship, you might think, yet a decade later Obama was telling aides and audiences that "naming Biden vice-president was the best political decision he had made":

"I think Biden gets a lot of lessons from Obama's discipline, and that's instructive at times, even though it annoys him," a former Biden aide said. "And I think Obama learns from Joe's warmth. When they're in a meeting together, the foreigners will tilt toward Biden more than Obama." The aide added, "Each one feels like he is the mentor." When Biden entered the job, he had told [Obama strategist] David Axelrod he still thought "I'd be the best president." But, after a year of observing Obama, Biden told Axelrod that he had been mistaken: "The right guy won, and I'm just really proud to be associated with him."

Now, thirty-two years after his first bid, it looks like being the other guy's turn.

Posted by at November 3, 2020 12:00 AM