Watching Joe Biden come to terms with his past during the Democrat primaries has been a beautiful thing.
Yes, of course, some of it is slightly ridiculous. The new batch of Democrats’ attempt to make the former vice president woker and woker — and then expressing disappointment than he wasn’t even woker-er — forces ones eyes to roll involuntarily.
However, there’s plenty of stuff he should be facing the music for. Forced busing to achieve desegregation was never a good idea on the local or state level, and preventing it on the federal level wasn’t a bad thing. However, working with notorious segregationists to achieve it wasn’t Biden’s finest moment, nor was praising them for their “civility” and walking that statement back almost the moment it came out of his mouth.
Biden’s touchy behavior with women has also been a national embarrassment for years, and his apology and chastening — while by no means as complete as it should have been on either level — was still long overdue.
And then there was his record with the Obama administration.
“Barack and I” has become a kind of mantra on the campaign trail for Biden, an easy way to ward off the accusations of retrograde opinions on matters of race and public policy. Yet, there’s also the fact that eight years of Obama had something to do with Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the White House — and that’s something Biden found himself coming to terms with yet again during a New York Times profile piece published on Wednesday in which he acknowledges that “[a] lot of people were left behind.”
“Joe Biden Wants to Take America Back to a Time Before Trump,” the headline read, followed by the sub-headline, “Is that what Democrats want?”
An interesting question unasked by The Times was whether that’s what America wants. Then again, this is The Times and I’m pretty sure they just think of non-Democrats as something like wheat rust or locusts, an inexplicable plague that descends upon us every election cycle and which can’t properly be reasoned away, so why even bother?
However, this wheat rust can vote and that’s a potential problem for Biden 2020, assuming he is what the Democrats want. Writer Michael Steinberger recalls a January event in Florida where Biden, in the midst of a book tour that was more or less a series of pre-campaign events, answered “a handful of questions, all softballs, but he touched on a number of subjects, including why he thought Trump won in 2016.”
“People are scared,” Biden said. “People are wondering whether we really care about their plight, those of us who hold public office.” If the government doesn’t care, he continued, voters become “susceptible to demagoguery.”
Biden was asked about this for the piece and spouted out two talking points that won’t surprise you: a) Obama inherited a terrible economy and b) the economy was doing OK when he got finished, the Obama administration just didn’t message it right.
Beyond this, however, was the tacit admission that maybe, just maybe, vulnerable working-class Americans weren’t necessarily feeling any real change in their fortunes under the former president.
So, going back to the beginning of the Obama administration: “Everything landed on the president’s desk but locusts,” Biden said of when Obama took office in 2009, saying that the 44th president “didn’t have time to breathe.”
Ah, there’s those locusts again.
In The Times piece, Biden kept the “Barack and I” narrative going while also throwing his former boss under bus — a pretty impressive feat, I must say.
Biden said that he had told Obama to “explain to people how we got where we were now and why it happened,” but that his boss was reluctant to do so.
“The president said: ‘Joe, I’m not taking a victory lap. We have so much more work to do,’ ” Biden said.
And then came the admission: “He also said that despite the economic recovery under Obama, many Americans were still reeling when Trump came along. ‘A lot of people were left behind,’ Biden said. ‘In areas where people were hard hit, I don’t think we paid enough attention to their plight.’”
This isn’t the first time that Biden’s said something similar, mind you. In fact, back in August 2016, he told The Atlantic that Trump had the ability to talk to working-class voters in a way that Hillary Clinton didn’t.
“I was doing the interview on Morning Joe, and they asked the same question. And I said, ‘Look, the truth is we just haven’t paid enough attention to these people. We haven’t spoken to them.” And everybody went nuts going, ‘Aw Jesus! Hillary is going to think that’s an attack.’
“But I asked my team what did Hillary just say in her speech? She said we’re not paying enough attention — and the phrase I used that really upset them — I said, ‘We’re not showing them enough respect.’ And she also said we’re not showing enough respect.
“The truth is, we are not showing enough respect. There is a new breed of Democrat that is represented by our administration, in my view, and the smart guys, the guys and gals who are Harvard, Yale, Penn graduates; the very, very well-informed, well-educated, elites of the party.
“They are the new version, if they don’t watch it, of the limousine liberals when I was coming up in the ’60s. Because at its core there’s a disconnect with some really, really, really smart, good, decent people who are with us and part of the larger Democratic younger elite, the millennial elite who don’t understand the middle class anymore.”
This was before the “basket of deplorables” remark, mind you. I guess you could impart a certain prescience to Biden here. Then again, you could also say that he was just stating the obvious.
Biden has made plenty of apologies so far this campaign season. This one’s different than the rest, however, and don’t expect The Times piece to be the end of it.
The 2020 campaign is likely to be fought in states such as Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — states with significant working-class populations that aren’t necessarily entranced by the identity politics and free-money giveaways that have characterized the Democrat race so far. Biden has oft been touted as the kind of moderate who can speak to these voters, yet the pundits who say this forget the fact that Biden is from the same administration that helped lose these voters in 2016.
Yes, Hillary certainly had something to do with it, given the “basket of deplorables” remark, but people forget that these voters were alienated before they were cast as deplorables. That alienation had to do with the fact that the Obama administration blue-collar workers were being actively ignored — something that Biden seems to concede here.
He’s going to have to concede a lot more if he thinks he’s going to win those voters back, however — particularly given the strength of the Trump economy.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.