A party in a panic
Democrats cast a loving eye on the crazy uncle in the attic
Vice President Joe Biden wants to be president. Good for him. But twice bitten, more than a little shy. The only memorable moment in either attempt was the speech he swiped from a British politician and gave without reading it first, describing himself as the son of a Welsh coal miner. (Who knew, including Joe himself?) Just a year ago, he seemed resigned to being remembered as only a vice president.
That seemed reasonable. Hillary Clinton was not just the slam-dunk favorite of most Democrats, but widely regarded as the only candidate worth consideration. Her resume as a former first lady, a former senator and a former secretary of state with a formidable gift for raising money seemed qualification enough. Giddy Democrats imagined a first woman following the first black to the White House. Even as President Obama was being sworn in, her friends and followers announced themselves “Ready for Hillary.”
She would be carried in a sedan chair to her coronation. The party tweaked the rules to make pretenders throw up their hands and climb aboard the Hillary wagon. Money flooded in and everyone said she would easily defeat whatever second-rate Jasper the Republicans nominated.
But the idea of Hillary Clinton was more attractive than Hillary herself. Eight years of resume building had done nothing to improve her oratory. None of Bubba’s roguish charm had rubbed off on her. She wrote a forgettable autobiography that couldn’t survive the book tour. She grew testy whenever anyone, even if tugging his forelock, questioned her about anything. It turned out that not everyone was ready for Hillary, after all.
And then came the email scandal, and worse, her reaction to it. The commanding lead she enjoyed in the spring evaporated when she continued to remind everyone of who she was. Americans began telling pollsters they didn’t trust her and they just didn’t like her very much.
True believers in the party and in the media tried to reassure themselves that she wasn’t really so bad as all that. She would be OK because, after all, she had a lot of money in the bank. Wasn’t money the mother’s milk of politics? Hadn’t the party rules been cooked for her? Besides, who else was there?
There was only Bernie Sanders, a quirky old socialist senator from Vermont, and no one could imagine Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland, as a serious contender. Even when Mr. Sanders began to cut into Hillary’s “insurmountable” lead, he was dismissed as an exile from a summer’s daydream.
But now, as the autumn leaves begin to flutter and fall, he has taken the lead in Iowa and New Hampshire. Matching Hillary against almost any Republican, even Donald Trump, is enough to send chills down the spine of every Democratic loyalist. Maybe it’s time for a good man to come to the aid of the party.
Maybe that good man could be Joe Biden. His two awful campaigns for president have been stuffed down the memory hole. The amiable uncle who says crazy things can come down now from the attic. His friends think he’s preparing to run and he’s bidin’ his time, with an occasional prayer that Hillary’s wounds, all self-inflicted, will be mortal. He can step in at the last minute to save the party without having to debate or deal with voters in the early primary and caucus states. He’s said to be thinking he can wait until after Thanksgiving to decide.
It’s a smart new strategy, but there must be a smart new Joe Biden behind it. Otherwise, the party could be trading one flawed contender for another. It’s still early, with the election more than a year away, but it’s getting later by the day.