I did not expect to be surprised by the Joe Biden entry to the presidential race. If anything, it was supposed be like putting on a pair of comfortable old shoes. Here’s Joe again, America would say, a guy we’ve known forever, bringing his smile and relatability to a crowded, bitter Democrat field brimming with candidates itching to impeach Trump and dance on the grave of his ruined administration.
Surely Joe would be different. Surely his entry would be refreshing in its loftier tone. Joe would re-introduce himself as the guy to return some stability and decency to a fractious, cacophonous environment.
Well, forget that.
The first point he makes—the first words out his mouth in his announcement video—are not just boilerplate Trump hatred that could have come from any of his rivals. They are the most discredited, execrable lie that the left has told about the president during his first term—the notion that he found “fine people” among the white supremacists in attendance at the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Even a cursory review of Trump’s remarks on that occasion reveals that he was referring to the broad group of citizens who showed up to protest the headlong rush to purge confederate imagery, such as the city’s Robert E. Lee statue.
I do not believe Joe Biden and his team are stupid. The only other option is intentional dishonesty. So imagine: Joe Biden, who has been on the American scene for generations, prepares the launch for what will surely be his last presidential campaign. He knows his strongest assets are familiarity, likability and an opportunity to provide a stable counterpoint to an agitated field of rivals.
But here’s what we get:
- Trump is Hitler;
- He has turned America into 1930s Germany;
- White supremacists are his base, and
- Heather Heyer, the woman tragically killed at the rally by a speeding car? Trump was at the wheel.
And I thought we’d get health care, climate change, maybe some income inequality. But apparently Joe and his advisors sensed that he needed to enter at the fever pitch sought by many Democrat voters. So after a clumsy pivot from Jefferson’s historic Charlottesville to the 2017 rally tragedy, he unrolls this:
“That’s when we heard the words of the President of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were, quote, some ‘very fine people on both sides.’ Very fine people on both sides? With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate, and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew that the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.”
This hyperventilation is based on the fiction that Trump had somehow normalized the seething throngs of racists with torches. That story collapses with the examination of the president’s actual words that follow the “very fine people” reference. “You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down, of to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name,” he said, referencing debates under way in numerous cities wrestling with confederate iconography.
Seconds later, he explained further who he was not referring to: “You had people – and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally – but you had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay? And the press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”
I’m guessing the Biden campaign has access to Google. But so do legions of media types who have had this story wrong for almost two years.
As repugnant as the Biden stunt seems to me, it’s my job to recognize that I was not the intended audience. While there are indeed Democrat voters yearning for Amtrak-riding lunchpail Joe, there is a growing slice of the party that scoffs at such calm, old-school positioning. Biden knows he cannot win without at least some of those voters.
So this is a gamble that he can attract Democrats looking for anti-Trump venom without repelling those who are less bloodthirsty.