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Biden's humanity and experience will guide history's judgment of his times...
Joe Biden’s journey from Scranton, Pennsylvania, has been a long and unlikely one— long not simply because of the miles and his political longevity age, but more so because of the circumstances of his life. He belongs to that tradition in our politics that honors the American dream of scrappy bootstrappers whose ascent to power was predicated more on perseverance and grit than the patrician bona fides of our founders— more Trumanesque than Washingtonian. Joe is a bit of an “Everyman.”
His personal story is well known by now, decidedly middle-class upbringing, his dad a car salesman, his mother a front-porch, stay-at-home Mom. It wasn’t much different than most of us who grew up without verandas and kitchen help. Like most of us, his journey is dotted with highs and lows except most would admit his highs have been much higher and the lows extend into a darkness deeper than what most will endure. It is safe to say that in terms of life experiences, Biden’s life has been tempered by tragedies and disappointments. At this stage in his life, the political slings and arrows are less likely to wound than motivate him.
That is why the current tack by his detractors to derail his presidency by citing perceived physical and mental incapacities seems like just another bump in a road that for Biden has been well-traveled. Republicans look for weakness where Biden has demonstrated that he comes off as not so much “old” as experienced. Some politicians no doubt have served long past their prime. Others, like Donald Trump, were beyond a viable political expiration date at birth. To be sure, age introduces incapacities that can put halt in a step, a stammer in speech. To date, Biden has used a quick wit and humor to gloss over any slight age-related gaffe. Wisely, he employs a stellar staff of political professionals who advise him. But his enemies forget the master of blunders who they follow with religious fervor— the one who bungled the COVID crisis and wondered if a posterior ultraviolet suppository could cure the virus that claimed nearly 7 million lives worldwide. They forget the self-proclaimed “stable genius” whose answer to Russian election interference was to disband the NATO Alliance, or whose response to an election loss was to plan an insurrection. Not even age could excuse the deficits he displayed over a lifetime.
Still, they choose to smear his successor. Let’s start with the Republican “Biden crime family” projection that only highlights the criminality of his leading opponent who is facing real jail time and who is really the poster boy for lackluster achievement as a human being. Does it really repel voters that Biden will stand by his only remaining son who is an admitted addict and who has a demonstrated need for a parent’s unconditional support? Consider the alternative reaction of a father who kicks his child to the curb to benefit his own political career. As a corollary, Republicans in the House have an added ignis-fatuus (swamp gas) delusion that enlisting the help of a phony whistle-blower would link the father with Hunter’s shady exploits, some real, some unfounded, most under investigation and found wanting. Accusing Joe Biden of corruption on the scale on which it is alleged is easily checked by a view of his rather paltry net worth as revealed as part of his required annual financial disclosures.
Hunter’s saga, on the other hand, shows a value beyond material riches. That Joe Biden chooses to run toward his prodigal child and not away from parental responsibilities tells us about his character:
At one point when he disappeared for nearly a month, he opened his door to find his father, then the vice president, trailed by Secret Service agents. “You need help,” his father said. As Hunter Biden wrote, “He wouldn’t leave until I agreed to do something.” On another occasion the elder Mr. Biden participated in a family intervention, ambushing Hunter to push him into treatment. When Hunter stormed out in anger, his father chased him down the driveway, grabbed him and cried.
— NYTimes, “For Biden, the Troubles of His Son Are Personal and Politically Painful”. by Peter Baker
Responding to questions about his reaction after Hunter accepted a plea deal that admitted wrongdoing and imposed punishment, the father Biden revealed the simple eloquence of the parent-child relationship and its lifelong bond:
Asked by reporters traveling with him in California whether he had spoken with Hunter on Tuesday, the president said simply, “I’m very proud of my son.”
— Baker, NYTimes
Biden’s charm— no malarkey
To those detractors who paint Biden as doddering and ineffectual, his record in office stands in the way. This administration has accomplished more in the harshest partisan climate than arguably any administration since LBJ’s. This is testament to the president’s steely determination to choose to do something rather than nothing when, at times, nothing would have better-pleased extremists on both sides of the aisle. Biden’s determination to serve his broader constituency is in stark contrast to his chief rival’s and predecessor’s penchant for only serving those whose support he could count on. And this distinction is what will likely bend history’s judgment in his favor. One only needs to observe the events of this past week as Biden has remade the NATO alliance that his Republican opposition would have disbanded and has led a world in opposition to Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine to understand the power of understated leadership informed by wisdom and experience.
To continue to underestimate his presidency comes with dire consequences. A president whose rise to power was anything but expected and whose success was anything but assured may be owed far more respect than he has been shown thus far during his time in office. While his final legacy is far from guaranteed, Biden leaves the impression that his legacy is not as important as the groundwork he will lay for it:
“I don’t think he ever thought of himself as a caretaker. He came in with an unbelievably ambitious agenda, and a core belief that he had to preside over many investments in America and American workers, American infrastructure, American manufacturing, that presidents had not done or not been able to get done for decades before him.”
— Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo
Being continually underestimated is a price Joe Biden has paid since he was a stuttering underachiever whose lifetime of achievements began in a city nicknamed “The Electric City.” Scranton’s sobriquet is owed in part to the 19th-century introduction of the first electric streetcars, which Biden might wryly suggest he rode in his youth— likely on its maiden trek in 1886. Others might suggest his hometown’s more recent fame is tied to the television home for Dunder-Mifflin’s The Office with its bungling manager and an ensemble of office denizens who are foils to Michael Scott’s often inadvertent affronts. Biden would likely embrace both owing to his ability to laugh at himself while making fools of those who underrate his historic ride as president.
He is a master at calling out those who practice the Irish artifice he calls “malarkey,” and he is determined not to allow its practitioners to take up the time he has left. Underestimate him at your peril, because this is a man who is comfortable with and knows precisely who he is:
“You're looking at a middle-class guy. I am who I am.”
— Scranton Joe Biden
And for most of us, that is quite enough.