While everyone's watching the Republican candidates stretch the gamut from serious drama to outrageous farce, Joe Biden's confrontation with tragedy gives him gravitas and focuses the rest of us on his character. It's just possible he could defeat the "inevitable" Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, and even make it difficult for the ultimate Republican candidate.
In the now-famous interview on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" several nights ago, the vice president emphasized the importance of empathy, of understanding another's experiences, attitudes and emotions, a quality in short supply today among many candidates. He explained how he was tutored in empathy by his two sons, Hunter and the late Beau Biden, who kept him from developing a hardened political facade or an approach to politics that channels political positions into canned sound bites.
The vice president described how once, after he finished talking to 70 million people, his sons, alone with him, spoke of what's important. "Look at us, Dad," they said. (We) are your home base. Remember who you are."
Joe Biden never wandered far from his home base.
The conversation with Stephen Colbert was remarkable because it lacked the emotional cant we've grown accustomed to hearing from our leaders when they
speak of family, faith and community. When the host asked him how he was able to keep the counsel of his soul in a political city filled with people who lie to us all the time, he had a succinct answer. "I commuted back to Delaware every night."
Suddenly we remembered why the Founding Fathers expected our representatives to live in their home states rather than in Washington -- to stay in touch with their roots. As Washington grew, and our representatives spent increasing time in the capital city, they lost a sense of what's local, of a home base.
In a strong contrast to the vice president talking about his home base, Hillary Clinton floods social media with nostalgic photographs of her as a younger woman, to remind female fans how she's been fighting for women's rights since before feminism was fashionable. From Wellesley, law school and the Children's Defense Fund, to school reform as first lady in Arkansas, she had their backs.
"The pictures of her early years are important in telling her story, where she came from, the moments that shaped her life, " Jim Margolis, her media adviser told Politico. "It's not just talk, it's not more promises, but you can count on her to fight for you, because that's what she's always done."
But political nostalgia is a double-edged sword for Clinton, because voters who don't trust her are growing, and her past reminds them of why. Recent polls testify to a dramatic decline in Clinton's support from women since early summer. Whereas 71 percent of Democratic-leaning female voters in July said they planned to vote for her, only 42 percent say that today, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll. While the numbers are worrisome for her, even more troubling are the personal interviews that offer insight into their reasoning.
Maya Chenevert, a community college student in Columbus, Ohio, for example, explains in The Washington Post how her excitement for Clinton goes back to 2008, when she was only 13 years old, but was as excited as her mother about Clinton possibly being the first woman president. But a grown-up Maya has become disillusioned and has persuaded her mom, who felt the same as Maya eight years ago, albeit from a mature perspective, that she's no longer the "right woman."
The bloom is definitely off the rose of an idea that the former first lady, former senator and former secretary of state must be the first woman president. "Ready for Hillary" always meant "ready for a woman," but her rose faded when mites and thrips attacked her explanation for her personal server, leaving the candidate more than a little scarred and lusterless.
The extensive experience that Clinton added to her resume as secretary of state was undercut by her need to exert control over her personal server, which makes it look like she wanted to hide her records from the public. The perception revives memories of the scandals from the former first lady's days at the White House when records mysteriously disappeared and reappeared years later, related to her work at the Rose Law Firm and her participation in the dismissal of White House travel staff. A younger generation would never have been reminded of all that had it not been for the recent revelations over her personal server. Even women who like Clinton are now saying she's "too divisive, " shows bad judgment and can't be trusted.
If the main issue for Democratic voters becomes character, Joe Biden may be the man on the white horse to ride to their rescue.