Buoyed by his win in the South Carolina Democratic primary, former Vice President Joe Biden appears to be gearing up for a tough battle with Sen. Bernie Sanders (S-USSR) for the chance to face President Donald Trump in November. The case for Biden rests on two claims: he is the most likely to defeat Trump and he is the “return to normalcy” candidate. His electability argument picked up steam in South Carolina, but this return to normalcy claim is deceptive.
The “return to normalcy” theme dates back at least to the election of 1920 when Warren G. Harding won the presidency after the tumultuous — and in many ways disastrous — years of Woodrow Wilson. Harding promised to restore America, returning it to a time before Wilson’s war socialism, before the devastating 1918-1919 Influenza pandemic, and before Wilson had proposed the unpopular international body that would become the United Nations. Harding won a landslide victory, with 60 percent of the vote and carrying 37 out of 48 states (Alaska and Hawaii would become states in 1959).
Biden appears to be adopting a version of Harding’s strategy. In slamming Sanders during his South Carolina victory speech, the former VP said, “winning means uniting America.” He launched his campaign with a promise to restore the “soul of this nation.” Biden is running on nostalgia for the first black president and he has insisted that Trump’s presidency is an “aberrant moment in time.” He warned that if Trump were to be re-elected, the president would “forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are.”
Yet Biden is not a “return to normalcy” candidate. He would likely worsen America’s divisions as president and embarrass the U.S. abroad, for three main reasons.
1. America’s political demonization predates Trump
As you are no doubt aware, dear reader, I was firmly #NeverTrump in 2016. As a “cuck RINO traitor who probably wanted Hillary to win” in 2016, I “clutched my pearls” about things like political demonization, Trump’s scandalous moral history, and the fact that he was a Democrat until yesterday. Only when Trump proved himself on issues like life, religious freedom, originalism in the judiciary, and more did I finally come around.
So I am sympathetic to complaints that Trump has tarnished some aspects of the presidency. His aggressive tweets do not fit the magnanimous presidential image set by leaders like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. His constant attacks on Democratic opponents may be funny — sometimes downright hilarious — but they’re not the kind of thing we want our president to be doing. Don’t get me wrong — I appreciate that he fights for conservatives who are routinely demonized in the public square, but I really wish he’d be more respectful and dignified.
Many Americans who share my preference for a magnanimous presidency may look to “the good old days” under Barack Obama, and long for Biden to restore those days. To be sure, Obama gave far more disciplined speeches than Trump, and he maintained the appearance of presidential magnanimity.
Yet Obama also demonized his political opponents and enflamed unhealthy passions in the republic. In 2008, he denounced Republicans as “bitter” people who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.” His IRS went on to target conservative groups.
At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, he championed the case of Trayvon Martin, even though Martin was shot in an altercation with George Zimmerman, whom the media shamefully characterized as a “white Hispanic,” playing into racial tensions. Obama said, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.” Even though Obama represented a major victory for America in that the U.S. elected its first black president, Americans said race relations actually got worse under Obama. (Biden echoed this by rushing to defend Jussie Smollett in his hate hoax last year.)
The first black president unleashed a host of social experiments that continue to wreak havoc on America. He forced religious employers like the Sisters of the Poor to violate their consciences by providing abortion-inducing drugs under Obamacare, setting up battles on religious freedom that show no sign of abating. His Department of Education issued a Title IX guidance that lowered the bar for accusations of sexual assault, creating a culture of fear and demonization of men on college campuses. His Department of Justice unilaterally amended the law to reinterpret “sex” to include transgender identity. Obama also championed same-sex marriage, after running against it in 2008. His administration helped get the Supreme Court to redefine marriage nationwide and set up religious freedom battles that continue to this day.
Joe Biden’s candidacy does not represent a return to a time when Americans treated their ideological opponents with respect, honoring their freedom to disagree. Obama did not use schoolyard taunts on Twitter, but four more years of his kind of leadership would not represent a restoration of “the soul of this nation.”
2. Biden’s rhetoric
Joe Biden also does not represent a return to Obama’s soaring rhetoric. For all his faults, Obama was an eloquent speaker. His former vice president, by contrast, is a gaffe machine.
In the lead-up to the South Carolina debate, Biden said he was running for Senate. During the debate, a moderator hilariously referred to him as “Senator Biden.” Also during that debate, he said nearly half the U.S. population died of gun violence since 2007.
Previous gaffes include statements like, “Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids… wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.” Biden has also repeatedly mixed up former British Prime Minister Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher. He has also encouraged Democrats to “choose truth over facts.” He has insisted that there are “at least three” genders — before grabbing a young lady’s arm when she asked, “What are they?” He also claimed to have been vice president in 2018 when the shooting in Parkland, Fla., took place.
If Joe Biden were to become the 46th president, America would be constantly embarrassed by his gaffes, far worse than Trump’s occasional misspellings on Twitter.
Like Obama and the rest of the Democrats running for president, Joe Biden has demonized those who disagree with his political views.
This has often come to a head on the issue of LGBT activism and religious freedom. The former VP said his number one priority would be passing the so-called Equality Act, which would enforce conformity on LGBT issues. A broad coalition of feminists, pro-lifers, and religious freedom advocates united in opposition to the bill, which lesbian feminist Julia Beck called a “human rights violation.” By guaranteeing supposed “rights” for transgender people, the bill would deny women their rights to privacy in restrooms and changing rooms, and their rights to fairness in sports, among other things.
Yet Biden has gone even further. During the LGBT town hall in October, he appeared to advocate for a terror-style watchlist ostensibly to prevent attacks on LGBT people, which would likely mimic the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) defamation and tracking of organizations they accuse of being “hate groups.” A similar SPLC-inspired “hate-crimes unit” in Michigan is currently being challenged in court.
In addition to his radicalism on LGBT issues, Biden has bragged about the character destruction of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, which was so vicious it created a new word in the English language — “to Bork.” This grand Borking arguably set American politics on the polarization and demonization track that so divides the U.S. today.
Biden also falsely accused Trump of defending white nationalists in Charlottesville, further inflaming divisions.
I am sympathetic to claims that Trump has weakened the moral force and magnanimity of the presidency, but Joe Biden is no solution to these problems.
Rather than a new golden age of American civil discourse, Uncle Joe would bring about more division, more confusion, and more embarrassment. It also seems particularly ironic that Biden accused Trump of aiming to “fundamentally alter the character of this nation,” when it was Barack Obama who first made the promise to bring about such a transformation.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.