When cam­paign gets be­yond per­son­al­i­ties, is­sues might trip up Bi­den

Chicago Sun-Times - - OPINION - STEVE HUNTLEY Steve Huntley is a for­mer ed­i­to­rial page edi­tor and colum­nist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

How to en­er­gize a political con­ven­tion with ex­cite­ment in the time of plague emerged as the big Au­gust chal­lenge for Democrats and Repub­li­cans, and the re­sults re­flect the per­son­al­i­ties of the two pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates.

Guess which one has more siz­zle? About the only ex­cite­ment for the Democrats cen­tered over whether nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den could read a TelePrompT­er speech with­out con­firm­ing the fears of lib­er­als — and GOP hopes — that his per­for­mance would re­veal him to be an ad­dled 77-year-old codger. Democrats across the land breathed a huge sigh of re­lief when he scaled that low bar.

Party lead­ers con­vened a drive-in-movielike crowd of sup­port­ers in their au­tos at the park­ing lot out­side the Delaware speech lo­ca­tion in a show of en­thu­si­asm for their can­di­date. Yet strangely, Bi­den de­liv­ered his speech in­side in­stead of out be­fore this group who could have en­livened his show with ap­plause and cheers. Maybe Bi­den’s han­dlers were among the fear­ful and didn’t want to chance a gasp-caus­ing gaffe in front of a live au­di­ence.

Trump is hav­ing none of that. He craves the at­ten­tion and feed­back of an au­di­ence and never wor­ries about what he will say, though no doubt plenty in his staff do. An­nounc­ing right from the start that he planned to speak daily to his con­ven­tion, on the first day he flew to Char­lotte, North Carolina, for a nearly hour­long ad­dress to a cou­ple of hun­dred del­e­gates as­sem­bled there to nom­i­nate him, and they re­warded him with chants of “four more years.” Then, Trump flew to a ru­ral Tar Heel town to laud farm­ers be­fore an­other group of ac­tual hu­man be­ings ready to hail their fa­vorite.

Bi­den, mean­while, ap­pears happy and con­fi­dent in iso­la­tion with the ex­cuse of the COVID-19 virus, due in no small part to polls show­ing him in the lead. Asked in a rare in­ter­view if he thinks he can cap­ture the White House by cam­paign­ing from home, Bi­den replied, “We will.”

Surely at some point, some­one in his cam­paign will note the con­trast of the Demo­crat holed up in his base­ment while Trump is out daily and ac­tively on the cam­paign trail, cheer­ing sup­port­ers if not able to ac­tu­ally do a lot of glad hand­ing. The pic­ture that emerges here is ob­vi­ous: One can­di­date is en­thu­si­as­tic and ea­ger, daily en­grossed in re­tail cam­paign­ing with the en­ergy of a younger man, while that other old fel­low stares into a TV cam­era some­where in Delaware.

Bi­den and Trump are both in their 70s, but it would be a mis­take to de­scribe them as be­ing of the same gen­er­a­tion. Bi­den, born in 1942, is of the Silent Gen­er­a­tion, as you might ex­pect given his cur­rent cam­paign strat­egy.

Trump is just un­der four years younger, but he is a baby boomer. And he is em­blem­atic of that gen­er­a­tion in many ways — vig­or­ous, dy­namic, in­ven­tive, self-con­fi­dent, self-cen­tered and self-con­grat­u­la­tory, con­ven­tions be damned, I’m do­ing it my way. And yes, he is crude and rude, but as friends such as for­mer pro football great Her­schel Walker, who’s known the pres­i­dent nearly four decades, tes­ti­fied in his con­ven­tion speech, Trump is also gra­cious, gen­er­ous and a good friend.

While Bi­den may be plenty lik­able, as many politi­cians on both sides of the aisle at­test, the age is­sue won’t go away for him, at least not un­til he suc­cess­fully con­fronts Trump in a de­bate. Now the prob­lem for Repub­li­cans — and Trump es­pe­cially since he likes to mock Bi­den’s mental ca­pa­bil­i­ties — is that they set the bar so low that even a medi­ocre per­for­mance with only mi­nor gaffes will en­able Democrats to de­clare their man the win­ner. Still, Democrats will be hold­ing their breath dur­ing any ver­bal slugfest.

At some point, and the de­bates are likely that, is­sues will emerge — and sig­nif­i­cantly enough to eclipse the per­son­al­ity cir­cus. That Democrats in their con­ven­tion fo­cused more on the con­trast­ing per­son­al­i­ties than is­sues tells you that the lat­ter may pose a mine­field for Bi­den and his hopes for vic­tory.

An­other in­di­ca­tor is that close to a fourth of the Demo­crat del­e­gates, more than 1,000, voted against the party’s plat­form be­cause it was writ­ten to pla­cate the far left sup­port­ers of failed So­cial­ist can­di­date Sen. Bernie Sanders.

This should have been, but wasn’t, a huge red flag to those Repub­li­cans sup­port­ing Bi­den, such as for­mer Ari­zona Sen. Jeff Flake and for­mer Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich who de­scribe the Demo­crat as a moder­ate.

But Democrats who know Bi­den best say oth­er­wise. Sanders said his one-time pri­mary ri­val would be “the most pro­gres­sive pres­i­dent” since New Deal Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt if Bi­den, as pres­i­dent, im­ple­ments the Demo­cratic plat­form and its war on fos­sil fu­els, greater govern­ment con­trol of health care and tax in­creases. Added Barack Obama in an in­ter­view with the New Yorker, “If you look at Joe Bi­den’s goals and Bernie Sanders’ goals, they’re not that dif­fer­ent, from a forty-thou­sand-foot level.”

Obama and ul­tra left­ist Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren of Mas­sachusetts of­fer fur­ther proof of the threat of a suc­cess­ful so­cial­ist agenda un­der Bi­den by declar­ing a Democrat­con­trolled Se­nate, con­sid­ered a real pos­si­bil­ity given polls now, should elim­i­nate the fil­i­buster. This tac­tic, re­quir­ing 60 votes for suc­cess­ful leg­is­la­tion, tra­di­tion­ally forces com­pro­mise in the Se­nate.

That prom­i­nent Democrats want to deep six the fil­i­buster should be a clear warn­ing that — no mat­ter the pleas­ing per­son­al­ity of Bi­den — mod­er­a­tion and com­pro­mise play no part in the Demo­cratic agenda for 2021 and af­ter.

AN­DREW HARNIK/AP

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den.

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