So, two old white presidential candidates walk into a bar ...
CHARLESTON, S.C. >> Even before Sen. Elizabeth Warren suspended her presidential campaign, a recurrent theme had emerged from the commentariat. In so many words: Now all we have to choose between are two septuagenarian white men.
(Yes, Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is still running, though no one seems to know why.)
We’ve long known that white men are the demographic to hate (on), as the woke generation might put it. But not so long ago — like, last summer — it was considered bad form to be ageist. P.S. Warren is 70.
What happened? And, how did the Democratic Party suddenly start acting like the GOP? Somehow, with all the diversity crowding the original field of Democratic contenders, the party of progress wound up culling the herd to two white men of advanced years.
One, 78-year-old Bernie Sanders, is an arm-waving socialist who comes across as a fanatic. The other, 77-year-old Joe Biden, is a bleeding-heart, old-school liberal, whose style tends toward the conciliatory.
My favorite Biden line from the debate series tells the story. When the moderator in the debate here last week called time on Biden, the former vice president seemed surprised at himself when he responded: “Why am I stopping? No one else stops.”
Indeed, Biden did stop, because that’s what he was supposed to do, whereas nearly all the others continued talking over the moderator. Most people probably thought little of Biden’s remark even if they unconsciously absorbed the deeper meaning of his words: Biden plays by the rules. This counts a great deal when it comes to governance and consensus-building, as you may have noticed the past three or so years.
After almost five decades in public office, Biden has learned how to talk to the other side and pitch legislation without breaking down doors. Although some Democrats may see compromise as surrender and might prefer a Sanders-style revolution in the nation’s affairs, they seem to be in the minority.
If the Democrats’ mission is to defeat Donald Trump this fall, then primary voters have thus far chosen wisely. There is simply no way independents and Republicans-in-exile would vote for Sanders. Indeed, Sanders is the perfect candidate if voters want to see Trump reelected.
Among those disappointed with the old, white men’s club are those who had hoped Warren would lead the Democratic ticket. They blame her failed campaign on long-embedded notions that presidents should look a certain way, insisting that the deck is stacked against women. Without question, women have to strive harder than men to advance in nearly every arena and Warren out-debated, out-planned and out-did herself with a passion and energy seldom, if ever, before seen.
Even so, she was often her own worst enemy. Despite her enormous talent and intelligence, Warren began losing ground when she continued to adjust her position on Medicare for All. This undermined the sincerity she otherwise conveyed. And, by the way, didn’t the Democratic Party nominate Hillary Clinton last time around?
The country isn’t yet ready for what Sanders is selling and Biden, though he trips over his words sometimes, is steady, familiar and human. Not least, like the president he served as vice president, Biden flashes a dazzling, reassuring smile, the value of which can’t be overestimated.
Against the scowler-in-chief, aged 73, an experienced, congenial, happy warrior should do well.