Joe Biden’s Message of Optimism

As the headliner at last night’s Leadership Blue Gala in Hollywood, former Vice President Joe Biden articulated a refreshing, positive vision for getting the party and the nation back on track.

He said it was understandable for Democrats to be disoriented and discouraged following a November election that “churned up some of the ugliest realities that persist in our country.” But he added: “The state the nation is today will not be sustained by the American people. We are better than this.”

He argued we need to acknowledge that too many voters have been motivated by by fear — fear of the future of the economy, fear of immigrants and more generally of “the other, the outsider,” fear of American decline — which Democrats need to counter with a positive vision of overcoming the real problems and capturing the opportunities of the future. “We have to make it clear what we stand for,” he said.

The Miami Herald story captured a key point:

Biden implored the party to stop thinking it can’t appeal to Trump’s working-class base without spurning progressive values.

“We can’t get bogged down — and I hope I don’t offend anyone here — in this phony debate in the Democratic Party,” he said, likening the false choice to saving your soul by cutting out your heart. “There is no need to choose. They are not inconsistent.”

Working people elected him for decades, Biden noted. “They voted for a black man named Barack Obama!” But they fear losing jobs to automation, digitalization and globalization.

“We didn’t talk much to those people lately,” he said. “We have to let them know we understand their fears, their concerns and that we have some real answers.”

It was certainly possible to hear this as an election speech, given that Biden recently formed a PAC, American Possibilities.

As noted in The Hill:

“I have no intention of running for president but I’m a great respecter of fate,” Biden told NPR’s “Fresh Air.” “I don’t have any plans to do it, but I’m not promising I wouldn’t do it.”

One political consultant I ran into in the hallway characterized it as less a campaign speech and more of a “get your act together” speech.

No doubt Biden and his admirers have spent some time wondering whether the results have been different if he had been the candidate instead of Hillary, just as that debate continues among Bernie Sanders believers. Unless you have a time machine handy, I think that’s a useless argument (and if you know your time machine stories, you know changing one big thing in the past changes everything else in unpredictable ways).

Whether he ought to run in 2020 is a harder question. Given that he would be 77 to Trump’s 74, it might be better to make room for a fresher face on the Presidential debate stage. Maybe after electing a second Bush and being presented with Hillary Clinton as a proposed successor to Bill, Americans are getting tired of sequels. I’m not eager to see Hillary or Bernie run again, either.

On the other hand, Biden is one of the best people to elevate the quality of the debate and the tone of the Democratic message, either as a candidate (win or lose) or as an adviser and coach to other candidates.

Biden at the Florida Democratic Party dinner

Fear of the future is misplaced, given that America still attracts the world’s best talent (immigration!) and generates most of its technological innovation, Biden said. “We always have been a nation of optimism, and for good reason.” We may need to do a better job of adjusting to technological change and other changes, but we have the capacity to make the future work for us. First, we need to be confident rather than timid and fearful.

“We are so well positioned as a nation if we could just get out of our own way,” he said.

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Author: David F. Carr

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