Biden might actually be the right person for the times
Americans feel that this country is out of control.
That view was in evidence in a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. According to that survey, which was conducted entirely after the death of George Floyd and the start of the recent protests in response, 80 percent of Americans feel that the country is out of control.
More tellingly, and at least in part why Donald Trump’s calls for law and order have backfired, 59 percent of voters blame the police for this situation. In contrast, only 27 percent believe the protests are a concern. In other words, the margin of those who blame the police for our current status outnumber those who blame the protesters — even with the recent violence — by more than a two-to-one margin.
What’s more, this view is not simply the province of Black people, Latinos and White liberals. According to the poll, 54 percent of White people believe the police are to blame for this chaos. That number includes large swaths of independent and moderate voters the President needs to earn re-election.
Obviously, there is something different about these protests. Even at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, people viewed the protests negatively. Indeed, according to Gallup, contemporaries viewed those protests negatively by a 57 to 27 percent margin — almost exactly the opposite of we view today’s protests. That is a huge change.
Similarly, just four years ago, 61 percent of Americans opposed Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests of the national anthem at the start of football games. I would be interested to see how people feel about those protests now, although ample evidence exists for the argument that his approach is being reassessed. Indeed, consider the change in position NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has taken, now supporting the players’ protests that he just recently opposed.
Obviously, something fundamental has changed. There are a number of theories being forwarded to explain this change, but to me, it has everything to do with the videos. Without the videos, it was easy for White people like me to think that the concerns of Black people over police behavior was overstated. Indeed, although I have had frustrating encounters with police, the kind of oppression Black people described is outside my experience. Even when the first few videos appeared, Rodney King, Philando Castile, and others, such behaviors could be dismissed as the behaviors of a few bad apples, not something systemic.
That is what has changed recently. Starting with the video of Ahmaud Arbery being hunted down by a group of white supremacists while he was out for a jog, followed closely by the video of Derek Chauvin calmly choking the life out of George Floyd, supplemented by documented and unjustified killings of Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, we could no longer deny that something was afoot. Although the viral distribution of the videos might be hurtful to the victims’ family, their existence has awakened something in America that just wasn’t here before.
What really cemented people’s views of the protests were videos of police violently manhandling peaceful protesters. Where White people might still have stuck to the “bad apples” theory, the widespread violence exhibited by police all across the country only reinforced the view that they were the problem, not the protesters. Again, thank God for the videos.
Consider the contrast with the Kent State massacre of a generation ago. Similarly, peaceful protesters gathered to oppose immoral policies, namely the Vietnam War. In response, nervous National Guard troops opened fire on these students, killing four and seriously injuring eight others. There were pictures and audio, but no video. The response? America sided with the National Guardsmen.
Video changes everything. Nevertheless, one thing that Kent State does have in common with today’s protests is that it galvanized a sense among Americans that our country was out of control. The difference was that because the public blamed the protesters rather than the law enforcers, then President Nixon was able to rest upon his reputation as a law and order President. Trump does not have that luxury.
When society feels out of control, Americans yearn for a return to normalcy. In 1970, in the wake of Kent State, they rallied behind Nixon and his promise to use law enforcement to return us to peace. Now, does anyone really believe Trump is the person who can bring us back to peace?
Since the beginning of his presidency, Trump has done nothing but fan the flames of resentment of one group of Americans against another. Since the protests began, he has only made things worse. When that all-American girl Taylor Swift calls out the President for exacerbating tensions, you know there is a problem.
What’s more is that the videos of police essentially rioting has turned public opinion in such a way that Americans recognize there is a problem that more law enforcement will not solve. As a result, Trump doubly falls flat in his Nixon-like call for law and order.
So what do Americans want? The new polling results tell us. By a 55 to 35 percent margin, people want a president who looks for compromise and consensus, even if it means less change. Joe Biden fits that bill.
I was not a supporter of Biden’s through the primaries, and indeed, I have been highly critical of him for years. Indeed, in 1988, I worked for one of his opponents for the Democratic nomination for President. My negative views of his lack of discipline and his overly-aggressive courting of Republican support only deepened as I watched his behavior during the Anita Hill hearings.
How Has America Changed Since Anita Hill?
The senate’s treatment of Dr. Blasey Ford would have been very different without her
That said, there are a few facts about Joe Biden that are irrefutable. First, he is a person of compassion and empathy, two characteristics lacking from our current president. Sometimes that warmth has gotten him into trouble, as when he has behaved more than a little inappropriately with women. Unlike our current president, however, Biden is not a sexual predator. Instead, he is a hugger who tends to get a little handsy with strangers. This is one of my critiques of him as a candidate, but yet at times like these we need a president who can relate to people’s pain and mourn with them.
Similarly, Biden’s annoying propensity to try to make friends with enemies is likely a strength at times like these. I’m not suggesting that Biden will ever be able to have a positive relationship with Mitch McConnell (assuming he is re-elected) and his ilk. Instead, Biden’s goal of building a big tent under which everyone is welcome is something Americans are thirsting for after four years of this divisive presidency.
Finally, Biden is old. That said, his age does equate to experience. Having someone who will bring a little maturity to the office of President is likely something that will appeal to most Americans after four years of this incompetent narcissistic man-child in office.
Thus, Biden’s three big negatives are likely strengths at times like these.
That said, this analysis only increases the importance of Biden’s vice-presidential pick. Biden’s age and his social mores from another era speak to the fact that his running mate should be young, someone with energy and an understanding of the expectations of today’s young people. This fact likely rules out Elizabeth Warren.
Second, the necessity of addressing racial inequality likely makes it necessary for Biden to pick someone with personal experience addressing racism, thus likely ruling out Amy Klobuchar and Gretchen Whitmer. Indeed, Kamala Harris’s record as a prosecutor might raise questions about her suitability to heal racial wounds.
Third, Biden’s desire to paper over differences likely suggests the need for a proven warrior for Democratic issues. Here, I think Stacey Abrams’s record is unmatched. Indeed, I have already written that I think she is the best choice to be Biden’s running mate for a variety of reasons. But given Biden’s weaknesses, she seems a particularly apt choice.
As the Democratic field narrows, who should be on the shortlist for V.P.?
Hint: it’s not who Joe Biden’s talking about
Americans seem to sense that Biden has what we need at this time. More and more states seem to be moving into the lean-Democratic column even as Biden’s overall lead really hasn’t changed much. The apparent reason for this sense is reflected in the recent poll which shows that by wide margins, people believe Biden would be better than Trump at addressing the concerns of the African-American community (49–30 percent) and bringing the country together (51–26 percent). At times like these, those characteristics are just what Americans are looking for.