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Editorial: Joe Biden: The right man for this moment

  • Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about coronavirus at The Queen theater, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Published: 10/24/2020 10:10:12 PM
Modified: 10/24/2020 10:10:09 PM

The most compelling argument in favor of the candidacy of former Vice President Joe Biden, at least for some people, is that he’s not Donald Trump. And if shove came to push — which we fervently hope it does not, especially outside the polls on Election Day — that would be more than good enough for us, given the depredations of Trump’s four-year reign of error. But there is so much more to like and respect about Biden as a long-tenured public servant and, just as important, as a man, that we give him our endorsement without reservation.

Support for Biden does not discount the fact that a number of other Democratic candidates had much to offer. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders single-handedly changed the national discussion about health care and economic fairness, among other issues, and deserves credit for energizing an entire generation of young people to become politically active. He has also been a model of consistency during his decades in public office while others have gone where the winds have blown them. We’ve been big fans of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren ever since she built the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the wake of the greed and corruption that caused the 2008 economic meltdown. Smart, focused and unafraid of detail (or bullies, like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), Warren gave hope to millions of girls and young women that the toughest glass ceiling in America can and will be broken. Former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, while lacking national political experience, demonstrated in our conversation with him a command of the issues — not surprising for a former Naval intelligence officer — along with eloquence and humanity. We hope to see more of him in the future: As has been noted before, he could run again in 2056 and still be younger than Biden is today.

Biden’s age, not surprisingly, is an issue. Should he win, he would be 78 when he takes office — the oldest first-term president in American history. Trump and the right-wing media have, despicably and ironically, attempted to stoke fear about his mental fitness. But Biden put those slanders behind him in the debates, demonstrating competence and (for the most part) restraint in the first one while revealing the president to be the blowhard he is and always has been. The contrast, and the competence, was even more apparent in Biden’s subsequent solo “town hall” meeting with voters. Trump — uncharacteristically — was able to maintain something resembling self-control in Thursday’s final debate, but he had no answers when Biden deftly challenged him on his taxes or on the new revelations about Trump’s Chinese bank account.

Far more important than Biden’s age, however, is his experience. A senator for 36 years, he served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee and was instrumental in the passage of the 1994 Crime Bill and its Violence Against Women Act, which many experts say dramatically cut the rate of domestic violence in the United States. Biden is justifiably proud of that accomplishment. But the bill also toughened sentences for crack cocaine possession, leading to an era of mass incarceration that ravaged Black communities. Biden has since acknowledged that the sentencing guidelines were “a big mistake” and understands them now to reveal the systemic racism that infects too many American institutions, including the justice system.

It’s important to have experience. It’s even more important to learn from it. Here the distinction between Biden and Trump could not be more clear.

Biden also chaired the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, where he demonstrated his preference for diplomacy, his belief in cooperating closely with America’s allies and his ability to work with dozens of foreign leaders and international groups, as well as with key members of the Republican Party. Biden’s 2002 vote authorizing the use of military force in Iraq riled members of his own party, who have delighted in hammering him for it despite his prescient warnings at the time about the dangers of armed conflict in the region and his consistent criticisms of the Bush administration’s myriad diplomatic and planning failures.

Here again, experience provided Biden with an important lesson: “It was a mistake,” he said in 2005. “It was a mistake to assume the president would use the authority we gave him properly.”

In 2008, Barack Obama selected Biden to be his running mate, largely because of Biden’s deep foreign policy and national security experience — nearly 800 generals, admirals and former national security officials from both parties have now endorsed him — and also for his ability to connect with working-class voters.

For eight years, Biden was Obama’s “governing partner” and “the last guy in the room” with the president at critical times. Right out of the gate, Obama charged Biden with getting Congress to approve a $787 billion stimulus package to combat the Great Recession. Biden also was instrumental in building support in the Senate for the Affordable Care Act, arguably the Obama administration’s most important domestic policy achievement.

“Choosing Joe to be my vice president was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Obama said in April, when endorsing Biden for president, citing Biden’s “knowledge and experience, honesty and humility, empathy and grace.” We believe Obama’s assessment to be correct.

Joe Biden is a man of decency and empathy, two character traits that have been absent from the White House for four long years. Witness his long friendship with Sen. John McCain, a political adversary, and with his family, especially at the end of McCain’s life. (McCain’s widow, Cindy, endorsed Biden last month.) Biden has a profound understanding of grief and deep experience with the tragedy of losing a loved one. His first wife and a baby daughter were killed in a car accident in 1972, and his son Beau died of cancer in 2015, the same cancer that killed McCain. On the campaign trail in 2020, when he met a New Hampshire teen who stutters — something Biden himself has struggled with since childhood — he offered sincere words of encouragement. The boy’s account of their meeting is heartwarming.

Biden will need all of his empathy and grace, and all of his knowledge and experience, to build America back better, especially its pandemic-shattered economy, and also to unite and mobilize the majority of Americans who recognize the urgent need to address climate change, establish social, economic and racial justice, fix our warped and cruel immigration policies, provide all Americans with access to affordable health care, and enact common-sense measures to reduce gun violence.

He’s no wild-eyed radical, despite the right’s desperate attempts to paint him that way. He believes in data and science: 81 U.S. Nobel Prize winners in chemistry, physics and medicine have endorsed him. He’s a moderate, a long-time centrist, who has nevertheless already brought disparate elements of his party to the table: His post-primary meeting with Bernie Sanders is one example, and his historic selection of Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate is another. Voters who are solidly in the center will get a hearing, as will voters solidly on the left. And Biden has a long record of working effectively across the aisle.

In sharp contrast, Trump listens to no one.

America is hurting. Its economy is in shambles. Distrust of institutions is at an all-time high. The country’s standing in the world had cratered. The climate disaster continues unchecked — and is in fact made worse by Trump’s horrifyingly short-sighted fossil fuel policies. And more than 220,000 of our friends and neighbors, our colleagues and co-workers, our grandparents, parents, spouses and children, are dead from a public health crisis that was not of Trump’s making but which was rendered far worse by his incompetence, ignorance and selfishness.

Trump has said he may not accept the results of the election and has not committed to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses. We have news for him: That’s not his decision. It’s the American people’s.

America needs a leader who respects the American people, who knows what hurting feels like, and who has the experience and the wisdom and the temperament and the heart and the vision to lead us out of our painful present and into the promise of a better future.

Joe Biden isn’t perfect. No one is. But he is absolutely the right man for this moment.

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