Biden His Time
His entrance ringed of homegrown theatricality, his gaze of tragedy, empathy, and loss. Bathed in white smoke and carrying a smile tailor-made for the crowd of iPhones it would soon find a home on, Joe Biden jogged out onto the stage to make his case to the American people in the same way a dog chases his tail; his earnestness and enthusiasm tempered by an inescapable stench of misguided naiveté. His suits are pressed, his shoes are shined, and his mind is whip-sharp as ever. He really, really, really wants to be president, and he’s hellbent on ensuring you believe the very same.
And for half a second, you think that he maybe should be. A seasoned party operative from a recent administration, Joe Biden sees himself as the natural successor to a dynasty that lost against insurgency, the knight-errant to a corrupted throne. Now, the sole charlatan against rising tides progressive and conservative, Joe Biden makes his last stand as the one candidate in the race who thinks he can defeat both. If you ask nicely, he’ll even commit regicide to do it.
The conceit Joe Biden’s campaign asks you to accept is the following: people are more nostalgic for the Obama years than they are memorable of them. “Remember Obama” has seen such overuse that mere mention of its name practically invokes parody, but it is, in fact, that very parody with which Biden wants you, the voter, to find parity. Biden’s greatest plan is not one focused on health care, or jobs, or guns, it’s that he alone can promise the return of one-time sanity to our politics. After all, was it not he, the Rocinante in the shadow of Don Quixote, who once delivered it?
There are more than a few issues with this fallacious schema. In order to sell his vision of a land reunified, Biden would prefer to rely on nostalgia. It’s easy, it’s limitless, and, most importantly, it’s fake. Part of what gives such an advantage to the non-true is that it, by definition, it doesn’t have to rely on what happened, it only has to rely on what you tell people what happened, and pray that the emotions the two things invoke are the same. Nostalgia works because it is effectively a blank check; the party in question writes their name in the memo box, what they long to be attached to, and you simply fill in the remaining boxes to provide for them exactly what they yearn for.
But Obama is too new, too fresh, for nostalgia alone to propel him to the Resolute Desk, so, Biden instead must rely on memory as a possible alternative to capitative the minds of millions. But memory doesn’t work this way. Either something is right, or it isn’t, and the dependence on you not caring about this is why Joe Biden thinks he can win. Joe Biden yearns for a world where people don’t remember, they just feel. He wants you to yearn for a time where you felt good but didn’t know why. He doesn’t want you to remember, he wants you to forget. To forget about polarization, to forget about division, and, most crucially, to forget that four years ago, this same strategy failed.
The electoral rejection of Obama’s legacy should have served as a lesson enough that such a strategy is misguided, but even if not, the signs are not hard to ignore. Obama’s promises of bipartisanship, of a new kind of Washington, went unfulfilled. Now, they too are gone, cast in a pool of political revolutions alongside the Tea Party, and yet the entire premise of Joe Biden is to bring about this movement and sensation once again, unaware of his own failure and attachment to a regime that failed to do the very same. Biden cannot have it both ways. He can’t both call for the return of bygone age and be in denial of his role in the failures of the very same. He can’t yearn for a return to the very past his electorate has so soundly rejected. And yet, he insists on doing just that.
Fundamentally, it comes down to the reality that Hillary Clinton learned half a step too late. You can’t copy the themes and write a campaign based on wistfulness any more than you can reminisce about a feeling that doesn’t exist or a movement that failed. People don’t want Joe Biden to be president. If anything, they want Barack Obama to be president, and that’s not gonna happen either. That ship has sailed. To determine whether or not Joe Biden understands this is to determine if he does the same.