When a politician brands himself a man of the people, he signs an unwritten contract. Always and everywhere in public, he must be warm, empathetic, and careful to eschew the signals of elitism. Further, he must never display anger toward any voter, nor toward anything but injustice, lest the good guy facade shatter.
Joe Biden chose the common man route decades ago. In his collectivist way, so did Bernie Sanders. Elizabeth Warren has made attempts--though her "I'm gonna get me, uh, a beer" moment famously fizzled. Politicians either have that gear or they don't. To those who do, it can be a great asset. Bill Clinton playing his saxophone (and wearing Ray-Ban Wayfarers!) on the Arsenio Hall show in 1992 was un-fakeable. He made himself vulnerable.
Some examples to the contrary: Mitt Romney is no man of the people. Nor was John Kerry in his time. They wear $5,000 suits, say tuh-MAH-toe instead of tuh-MAY-toe, drink with extended pinky fingers, and no one makes a fuss. Why? Because at least they're not faking it.
"I can imagine having a beer with him" is a specific mental state for a voter. For the politician, it's a delicate spell to cast and maintain.
Hillary Clinton, not exactly a people person, nevertheless exists on both sides of the divide. On one hand, she sneers at deplorables, but is able to survive black-vote-pandering claims of carrying hot sauce in her purse, a duality perhaps attributable to living so long in the glow of Bubba's folksy penumbra.
There is only one who has it both ways, and in heretofore unimagined dimensions. President Donald Trump, the silver spoon billionaire who comfortably rubs elbows with the Davos elite one moment, rouses stadiums full of supporters the next. Stadiums full of people who waited overnight to see him. In an assured and seemingly tireless voice, Trump elicits raucous, passionate patriotism from all ages and economic classes.
The Democratic frontrunner nationally for virtually every poll since he announced his candidacy, Biden has never operated without incident. Now he is showing more serious signs of strain.
It's one thing to snap at reporters, and not unusual on the campaign trail. It's a risky tactic, but it can pay off if the question posed by the press is seen as crossing the boundary between political and personal. In this way, Biden is tragically well-equipped: the death of his wife and daughter in a car crash in 1972, followed by the loss of his son Beau to brain cancer in 2015, have provided the candidate with both a cocoon from certain lines of questioning, and a sympathy-generating blanket to coddle critics.
It's another thing to snap at voters.
For a self-styled "man of the people" politician, confrontation with voters is the third rail. Once the mask is off, it's hard to slip back on. I can imagine having a beer with him is a specific mental state for a voter. For the politician, it's a delicate spell to cast and maintain.
Biden has an increasingly heavy load to carry. His potentially greatest ally, Barack Obama, has forsaken him. His son Hunter has been a distraction for years. Biden's campaign tried to air out all of Hunter's secrets in a controlled experiment exposé in The New Yorker. It worked, at least for awhile. Over time, interest in the father/son duo's dealings with foreign governments and corrupt corporations has grown, reaching a near-boiling point this week, with GOP senators openly calling for Hunter as a Senate impeachment trial witness.
Further, Biden is not young. He said as much yesterday in an odd pitch to voters in Iowa. "I'm an old guy...No, I'm serious!" he said to a small crowd. At 77, with a fairly concerning medical history including two aneurysms (one of which was triggered by a previous presidential run), the grind of the 24/7 campaign cycle is demanding for anyone.
If there's a silver lining in all the noise surrounding Biden, it's that his bloody eye, his loose dentures, tales of Corn Pop, and his sniffing and fondling of other men's daughters and wives has been, if not forgotten, at least not front and center.
Perhaps it isn't mere age for Biden, but something degenerative that often accompanies an increase in years. How else to explain the video below? Biden knows he is being videotaped. His interlocutor, a voter who is not badgering Biden or otherwise showing anything but concern over an Iowan issue, is met with angry-old-man actions and attitude.
His defenders will say he's "touchy-feely," a hands-on guy. That only works in friendly, non-confrontational exchanges. Try being touchy-feely with a police officer and you'll quickly comprehend social convention. Biden's actions certainly don't rise to assault, but they are genuinely uncomfortable. To begin: three quick, flat palms to the voter's chest while saying, "vote for someone else."
That alone would be awkward, but as they go on, Biden pokes the man in the chest while cajoling for a primary vote, not just the general election vote he has already pledged (with a somewhat flustered "If you're nice to me"). Biden then takes hold of the man's lapels the same way you would with a child throwing a fit. He continues by chopping the air near the man's face, then clapping his arm congenially, then poking him twice again in the chest in closure.
That's eight touches and one threatening motion. Is this how to win voters over? Maybe in Libya.
A recent encounter with a reporter drew some attention, but the pattern wasn't as established then as it is now. If any other candidate besides Biden acted this way--a sudden burst of wild energy followed by an odd bit of projection, it would have made bigger media waves. As is, most of these clips are hard to find online.
The reporter, from Fox News, was trying to ascertain why Biden was still attacking Bernie despite the apparent truce reached between the two. The reporter stuttered mildly and said, "Why, why," before Biden wheels on him, barking "Why" five times in the rapid fire delivery of a small dog sighting the mailman.
"Why why why why why? You're gettin' nervous, man. You gotta calm down!" The final two statements sound like the reasonable voice in Joe's head, the superego that meant to hit Joe's mute button but mashed the loudspeaker controls instead.
Again, Biden touches the reporter's lapels, then balls his hand into a fist and, yes, hits him--there's no other word for it--firmly in the chest before walking away. It wasn't the knuckles, it was the butt of his fist. Still...who does that?
Prior to that, in December, Biden confronted another Iowan voter, flatly calling him a liar. The voter was trying to discern why he'd heard about Hunter and Burisma in the press. Biden replied brusquely, shouting him down. "That's a damn liar," Biden claimed (apparently changing tack from "That's a lie" to "You're a liar" within the course of the sentence, or simply speaking to the crowd at large: that man is a liar).
Biden's anger follows a familiar pattern, seeking to win the argument with a threat of violence. It's the equivalent of a grade school altercation where the student fresh out of logical rebuttals threatens to settle the score with a fight behind the backstop after class. Biden's version: "If you wanna take my shape on this, let's have a push-up contest, let's run...let's take an IQ test."
None of those things speak to Hunter's involvement in Ukraine, of course. Just Punchy Joe saying, in effect, I can beat you. I'm better than you, physically and mentally.
Only barely managing to edit his angry internal monologue, Biden later says, "Look fat-- look. Here's the deal," apparently stopping short of calling the man "fatty" or perhaps "fat man" in front of a room of well-fed Iowans.
Biden didn't make any friends during this interaction in October with a young lady of the Greta Thunberg ilk, whom he called "child." What some saw as condescending, others labeled as a kindly term recognizing the vast disparity in their respective ages. (Which is perhaps just as worthy of consideration.) At any rate, Biden would happily accept this minor bit of bad press versus the tide he faces today. What a difference a few months can make.
Keep an eye on Biden this week. As the Senate trial proceedings make witnesses appear more likely, both Hunter and Joe are at the very top of the defense's list. Peter Schweizer's book "Profiles in Corruption" has been published, unlike John Bolton's.
Moreover, even mainstream media (left-leaning Politico) are beginning to report on the familial favoritism Biden's relatives have enjoyed over the years. Has the dam broken?
On Monday, Trump counsel Pam Bondi called the Biden situation, "nepotistic at best, nefarious at worst." Educated guess: it's both, and a lot more of the worst than the best.
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