One thing has become increasingly clear in the past few weeks:
If former Vice President Joe Biden does run for president, he’ll have to distance himself from a lot of things in his past if he wants to win the Democratic nomination.
We’re not just talking about the fact that he gets a bit touchy-feely with people he shouldn’t, either. (Although he’s going to have to put a lot of distance between himself and that.)
There are other issues, too. His opposition to racial busing in very strong terms during the 1970s, for instance. Or his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Anita Hill hearings. All of these are making him somewhat unpopular among his party’s base.
However, one thing that we were surprised to see: Biden distancing himself from the legacy of the Obama administration.
It happened in a subtle way, but one that was pretty unmistakeable — particularly when the former vice president called out “sophisticated” and “elitist” attitudes in a speech before union leaders on Friday.
Yes, I suppose one should consider the audience when evaluating Biden’s performance. That’s doubly true when you consider that President Donald Trump’s performance in union households back in 2016 was the best for a Republican since 1984.
However, Biden didn’t just call out elitism, he managed to touch on a number of other areas that seemed to recast himself in a far more populist light than he was as the No. 2 man in the Obama administration.
“There is no possibility any of those guys making millions of bucks on Wall Street, doing good work wherever they’re doing it and doing very well, they could not function without the work you do,” Biden told his members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers during a speech in Washington.
“Literally. It’s impossible to make the country function without what you do,” he added. “And don’t you forget it. Don’t you forget what you do.
“We’ve gotten so damn sophisticated. We’ve gotten so damn elitist,” he said.
“When that storm comes and that storm sewer’s overflowing and some poor sucker’s out there cleaning it, you owe him or her a thanks. They make life work for us.
“And I hate the way things have changed over the past 15 to 20 years.”
Remember one quote, as the Washington Free Beacon’s Nic Rowan did:
“It’s not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
That was Barack Obama back in 2008, explaining why working-class voters might vote Republican. And it was a perfect example of Obama’s insufferable elitism.
There aren’t a whole lot of ways to view Biden’s speech except as being a repudiation of the Obama legacy. The Democratic Party effectively rebranded itself during those “15 to 20 years” Biden spoke of, turning itself over completely to its urban, activist base and abandoning the working-class voters that propelled the party in the Midwest for most of the 20th century.
Biden apparently wants those voters back, if just because they’re not too concerned about the issues the Bernie/Kamala camp is.
They don’t care that he was for tougher criminal justice statutes in the 1990s or that he didn’t treat Anita Hill the way Democrats would have liked.
However, Biden’s going to have to make voters forget that he was second-in-command during a time when the administration was elitist, when it liked to believe it was sophisticated. It cozied up to Wall Street like nobody’s business.
They only cared about the “poor sucker” cleaning the storm sewer out if there’d been a flood and it was time for a photo op. (Incidentally, it really helps if you don’t call them “poor suckers” while talking about elitism, but these are the least of Biden’s problems.)
He can try to distance himself from his past as much as he wants. In this case, it may be a wise move, considering how smugly liberal the field is. However, it only reminds us yet again of how we got to that point.
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