Maybe Joe Biden Can Win
Maybe Joe Biden can win. When you ask a lot of people by phone if they’d rather vote for Joe Biden or Donald Trump, more of them say Biden. Most of them haven’t seen him around much since he was Barack Obama’s wingman, and maybe they’ll still like him after the entire right wing spends a year attacking him. His numbers against Trump are almost half as good as Hillary Clinton’s were at the same time in her campaign, and she ended up getting more votes than Trump and almost winning, so maybe it will work this time. It’s certainly a possibility.
Maybe we don’t need plans for the future, beyond defeating Donald Trump. Maybe this will be an election where we just have two candidates offering competing visions of the past, and maybe Joe Biden’s vision will win out. Donald Trump’s vision is fiery, fantastical, and energetic, invoking the prosperity of the ‘50s, the glitz of the ‘80s, and the imperialism and violence of all of American history. Maybe Biden’s softer vision of the ‘90s and early 2010s, the calms between the storms, will appeal to more people. Neither candidate can really make it happen, of course. You can’t get there from here. But maybe the little lie will beat the big lie this time around, and instead of reenacting the worst horrors of the past, we’ll just reenact the middling mistakes that led us to where we are, in a context where they make even less sense. Maybe those mistakes won’t have the same consequences this time. We could get lucky.
Maybe anger isn’t the answer. Maybe Democrats won historic victories in 2018 despite the newfound passion of their activist base, not because of it. Maybe Joe Biden can disparage angry women and energized youth and find another core of volunteers, or maybe the people he turns his back on will push for him anyway after the primary, because Donald Trump is that bad. Maybe Biden doesn’t need an engaged activist base at all, just an acceptable message that polls well. Maybe everyone else will fill in the blanks, and in the end enough mildly engaged people will show up to decide this one for the good guys. It might be that easy.
Maybe it’s not time for big solutions. We may have big problems, but maybe it’s easier to convince people that small solutions are the remedy. The experts tell us that the ultra-rich have more money than ever before, and experience tells us that many of us are broke, drowning in debt, unable to afford health care. The experts tell us the climate is collapsing and will never be the same again, farmers tell us the growing seasons are changing, people in mountains tell us that ice is receding, people on coasts tell us the storms are getting stronger and more frequent. But maybe these changes are easier to accept than actively changing our economy. Maybe America would rather die slowly than fight for its life. Maybe too many people are still too comfortable to confront inconvenient truths, or would rather hit the snooze button on their discomforts. Maybe voters will calculate that we can afford another four to eight years of this, because the only alternative is running down the clock even faster. Maybe the problem of the Obama era wasn’t that it compromised too much with the past, but that it challenged the future too much, and we can try it all again but without the audacity of hope this time. Maybe enough of us will survive in the meantime, or at least the right people, or maybe the long-term future isn’t the right people’s problem anyway.
Maybe we should pretend that we’ll unify with Republicans. It’s not that we can. The right wing didn’t move an inch when Joe Biden was President of the Senate, and they’re even more aggressive and dug-in now, but maybe this is the kind of thing we can say to win an election. Maybe this will convince Republican voters that the parties aren’t at war, even if the Republican party says that they are and acts on it. Maybe Joe Biden can extend the kind of olive branch that gives a few more Republican leaders to break ranks when they never had the courage to before, and maybe this time they won’t be immediately cast out of the party and ignored. Maybe independents will be drawn to the fantasy that they can vote for Joe Biden to continue to avoid picking sides, and maybe there will be enough of them to swing the election.
Maybe Joe Biden is the best hope for people who have been trampled for decades by American politics. It’s better for women to have someone who bowed out of their fights, buddies up with people who would take away their rights, and oversteps boundaries in a clumsy, well-intentioned way that he still thinks is kind of funny than someone who actively demonizes them, has bragged about being able to assault them, and is presiding over an attack on their bodily autonomy that goes beyond anything we’ve seen in the past. It’s better for African-Americans to have someone who led the push for mass incarceration a while ago, thought a little bit of segregation was okay, and uses some old-timey racist cliches than someone who first stepped into national politics by calling for the execution of five black teenagers who were falsely accused of a crime, started his presidential run by falsely accusing the first black president of faking his birth certificate, allies openly with some white supremacists, cruel authoritarians, and vigilantes, and is actively gutting social and civil safety nets. Maybe Joe Biden being the kind of guy that a racist and sexist country will accept is the best chance to defeat a much more virulent racist and sexist, and that’s a bargain we can’t pass up.
Maybe Joe Biden will even be a good president. Maybe, after having done no work since leaving office, after having developed no plans, after having taken no bold stances and led no tough fights, after having campaigned with a Republican in a close race in the 2018 midterms even as he endorsed Democrats elsewhere, he’ll ride the coattails of the coalition he seems ambivalent about and put a smiling face on all those other people’s ugly and obscure labor. Maybe that’s the missing ingredient, someone to take credit who looks like the people we like to credit.
Maybe Joe Biden can win. I don’t know. We don’t know these things. We’re bad at knowing the future, and good at telling stories about what inevitably must happen, and when someone is confident enough in a story and thing happen in a way that makes the story seem true, we like to believe the person has the ability that nobody has, to tell the future. Some things do happen predictably: people never win without fighting, power pools up if you let it, life dies off when you alter the conditions that sustain it, institutions crumble when nobody defends them. But the things we’re sure of aren’t so exciting to us. Maybe that’s why there are so many articles saying, through anecdotes or numbers or general impressions but without much certainty or new information, that maybe Joe Biden can win.
Maybe I’m paying too much attention to it. Maybe this just adds fuel to his fire. Maybe I like to complain. Joe Biden makes me angry, Joe Biden makes me tired, Joe Biden makes me sad, and maybe I tune in because I’m bored and want to feel these things and never learned to take care of myself. Maybe I like fighting against the idea of Joe Biden because he’s so obviously bad that it distracts from harder work, harder questions, things in my control, and maybe when I think of how much I love to hate Joe Biden, I see a little bit of why Joe Biden loves to talk about Donald Trump. These men are boring. These men are mediocre. These men make it easy to feel relatively good about ourselves for not being like them, but that’s not a deep kind of goodness. It’s nothing at all. Maybe we’ll have to deal with Trump, maybe we’ll have to deal with Biden, but one thing I know for sure is that we need some space to focus on things, people, plans, futures, that we actually like or care about, so that we have the chance to do better.