When I was a young baseball fan, I thought that pitchers who relied on a great fastball would lose their effectiveness more quickly than pitchers with a mediocre fastball who relied on “junk” and guile. After all, speed declines with age while guile, if anything, increases.
Eventually, after observing the late career success of Robin Roberts, I realized that pitchers with a great fastball can reinvent themselves as pitchers with a mediocre fastball, guile, and “junk.” Meanwhile, junkballers lose the mediocre fastball that set up their junk.
Which brings me to Joe Biden.
Biden never had a good fastball. He finished near the bottom of his law school class at Syracuse University (and lied about this, as well as other aspects of his academic background). When he campaigned for president in 1988, he had to rely on words he stole from a British politician.
Biden never had success in any endeavor other than politics. That’s true of Bill Clinton and (mostly) Barack Obama too. But they are obviously intelligent (extremely so in Clinton’s case) and achieved the academic success that eluded Biden, to say the least.
Biden deserves credit for becoming a Senator from Delaware at a young age. But his two attempts at the presidency were abject failures. If Barack Obama hadn’t needed a non-controversial white running mate with gray hair, Biden would have languished in the Senate forever.
Biden’s signature moment in the Senate was the Clarence Thomas confirmation process over which he presided as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. He behaved like a deer caught in the headlights. Now, he’s apologizing for the few sensible decisions he made during the Anita Hill farce (Hill, needless to say, isn’t mollified).
In short, Biden was a mediocrity during his prime. At 76, he’s past his prime.
What, then, does Biden have to offer? Two things, I think. He’s not a socialist and he doesn’t traffic in identity politics.
That wouldn’t be much, except for the fact that every other serious contender for the Democratic nomination answers to at least one of two descriptions: socialist and identity politics monger. By contrast, a large swath of Democratic voters answers to neither.
This reality, Biden’s name recognition, and his association with Barack Obama make him a formidable-seeming candidate.
But there’s a problem. It’s not likely that Biden will run as a purely traditional Democrat. I haven’t heard him part company with the leftism espoused by the rest of the Democratic field. Rather, he’s apologizing for past manifestations of his traditionalism. Biden seems anxious to prove that he’s “woke” — that, in his late 70s, he finally “gets it.”
I don’t believe Biden can do “woke” for a sustained period of time. I’m not sure he can do it for a month. Moreover, the effort will only make him seem ridiculous and produce even more gaffes than we are accustomed to from the talkative former vice president.
This suggests that Biden’s candidacy could go in either of two directions. He might become a laughingstock and, as such, crash and burn. Or Democrats (and eventually the electorate as a whole) might forgive, overlook, or laugh off his attempts at wokeness and accept Biden as a serviceable alternative to his wacky competitors (and eventually to President Trump).
In the latter scenario, America might well end up with a president who never had a fastball or much guile — a president who was always a mostly empty suit and who has shriveled with old age.