Welcome to the invisible primary — the middle-school cafeteria of democracy. It’s the magical and horrific time before an actual election where things are actually pretty straightforward and candidates’ secrets are exposed. It’s so notorious that being able to withstand the gossip is the first true litmus test for any potential presidential candidate because, if you can survive, you’re more likely to win a general election.
Most political pundits lambast the season of infighting as divisive and weakening to the party; yet to do so ignores the very nature of gossip. At the center of all gossip is a kernel of truth that everyone wants to know, and, in democracy, fascination becomes civic duty. The rest of 2019 will be dominated by talk and intrigue about one political candidate or another, despite pleas for politicians to do less campaigning and more governing. So as they say in the cafeteria, if you can’t beat them, join them.
The viciousness of the season can certainly go too far, but often, pleas for mercy come from nervous political players. Look no further than Joe Biden and MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. “And Democrats and those on the left who want to tweet me today and go nuts and get all woke, you’re eating your young,” Brzezinski said. “You’re eating those who can beat President Donald Trump. You’re killing the very people who have been pushing women ahead.”
Biden is the first of a host of potential Democratic presidential candidates that will get criticized in The Catalyst in the upcoming year, and it’s his own damn fault. Brzezinski jumped to Biden’s defense after multiple women accused Biden of inappropriate touching. The first accusation, by Lucy Flores of the Nevada State Legislature, was met with shocking indifference by large swaths of the Democratic party, a party that claims to support survivors yet has had no reckoning for Bill Clinton, or for Hillary Clinton, who notoriously attacked and shamed Bill Clinton’s victims.
Amy Lappos, a former congressional aide, also recently accused Biden of inappropriate touching and behavior toward her. This second announcement has begun to shake Democrats’ confidence in Biden, but he still has ardent defenders.
The defense is generally that Biden is just an overly kind and touchy man who just didn’t understand his harm. The accusations carry with them the weight of many YouTube montages of Biden massaging the shoulders of younger and older women, kissing heads, and generally being overly “loving” (as the Washington Post put it). There are also instances of Biden using similar body language toward men, but it’s not a large jump to say he should probably just be respecting everybody’s space.
Current accusations about Biden conjure up his past, specifically the confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas and testimony of Anita Hill. Hill accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual assault in a situation quite reminiscent of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, and was reviled for it. Biden was the chair of the judiciary committee at the time, and thus has to bear a large brunt of responsibility for how the meetings ran. Politicians on both sides of the aisle impugned Hill’s character, and Biden refused to allow several of Hill’s corroborating witnesses to testify. Biden has apologized for how the events of the hearing transpired, and while he has stopped short of taking responsibility, he wishes he could have done more for her.
But Biden’s past doesn’t stop there. He, like other Democrats at the time, championed the 1994 crime bill, citing the popular “super-predator” trope that largely referred to young Black men. He gave an impassioned plea to lock them up for the sake of his daughter, wife, etc., and to top it all off, he’s consistently joined segregationist Strom Thurmond to push for drug war policies.
He has since apologized for this. In a Senate reelection campaign, he opposed mandatory bussing programs largely at the behest of a white-flight suburban constituency. Biden has not apologized for this. He voted to gut welfare as a “sensible” Democrat. More recently, Biden is known for marveling at how “clean” and “well-spoken” Barack Obama was as a Black candidate.
Ideologically, Biden is a rank-and-file centrist Democrat. He voted to make it harder to declare bankruptcy because of student loans, voted to deregulate the financial markets, and was a proponent of the Iraq war. His hawkish remarks have hardly toned down — he’s an accomplice to Obama’s foreign interventionism and hardly mentions Palestinians when speaking of Israel — and he introduced what is largely viewed as the prototype of the Patriot Act. Many of Biden’s top donors are members of the financial industry. He notably said “give me a break” to millennials as he thinks we don’t have much to complain about, and he has been back and forth on immigration.
The news isn’t all bad. Biden seems to be fairly electable, often appealing to the “wide middle” that seems to be missing in much political discourse. He has a specific appeal to lower-educated and rural white people that could prove handy against Donald Trump. Biden also has strong establishment support, and is an experienced candidate that has legislative and executive experience.
All that makes him pretty strong by the numbers — but by far his most powerful asset is his bluntness. In the 2012 presidential election, it was almost a delight to watch Biden smugly and dismissively crap all over Paul Ryan, and that might be just the energy needed to counter the bombastic Trump on a debate stage. If Trump supporters are looking for hyped-up machismo, Biden just might be able to out-muscle Trump.
The progressive take on Biden isn’t a great one, though the establishment and the polls love him. It’s hard to imagine that a candidate with his history could be successful, but a household name like his has proven time and again that as much as millennials may see these issues as sticking points, there are large swaths of voters that will not.