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Joe Biden Isn’t Even Breathing Hard

Joe Biden hit it out of the park last week. His State of the Union speech, most agree, was pitch perfect. Even some Republicans, even some Fox pundits, even a toxic tool like Rick Santorum had to stretch to find something to quibble with, though not for lack of trying.

Biden eviscerated Trump without once mentioning him by name. He castigated the Supreme Court, with all the due respect they weren’t due. He finessed the Middle East. He stood up for reproductive rights that his Catholic upbringing never allowed for. He taunted Republicans for their naked hypocrisy on immigration, called them out for their betrayal of Ukraine, and got righteously pissed off at what he’s too polite to call an attempted Christo-fascist coup.

All this while demonstrating, quite convincingly, that eighty is the new sixty.

What came through for me, most of all, was how much he gets off on this. You could see it in that stroll through the very venue that was his workplace for most of his life. He was clearly in his element, working the room, hugging old friends, shaking hands with old enemies, meeting new allies and assholes for the first time, face to face. He ate it all up, and at no point did I feel he was faking anything.

You could tell how hard he worked on that speech. He’s never been a natural public speaker, but it’s a skill one can acquire, and he’s had fifty years to acquire it. He even has his own style — clunky, with a twinkle — that he delivers with confidence and, dare I say, flare.

His glances at the teleprompter were almost imperceptible, which tells me that he knew this speech inside and out, that he was ready to riff on it, go off-script, and call bullshit on every jerk — Democrat as well as Republican — who thinks age is anything but an asset.

All of which is my way of confessing that I have underestimated Biden for a long time. I always saw him as an amiable plodder, a dull but reliable team player who for many years tried to get our attention, but couldn’t quite succeed. As vice president, he certainly gained in stature, but he remained easy to ignore, mostly because the president he served was so impossibly glamorous.

And because glamor is what Democrats always crave. We remain ever true to that old saying “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.”

Ever since JFK, we’ve been suckers for charisma. We have a weak spot for the charmer with the silver tongue — Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, even Jimmy Carter — and we forget what the actual job is about. And how good those guys were at it, their charms notwithstanding.

The presidency is not there for our entertainment. It’s there to do the increasingly complex job of governing an increasingly ungovernable country.

Two weeks ago, Lawrence O’Donnell put some of this in perspective on MSNBC. First, he utterly demolished the notion — foolishly expounded by the likes of Ezra Klein, Bob Costas, and David Axelrod — that the so-called “Dump Biden” movement was even remotely viable, let alone desirable. For many reasons, and O’Donnell listed them all, removing Biden as a candidate at this late date would be both financially futile and politically suicidal.

But then he took a sledgehammer to the whole “Biden is too old” meme. He recalled Franklin Roosevelt, who oversaw the later phases of World War II while shaping what the post-war world would look like, even as he was quite clearly dying. And while history has questioned some of the decisions FDR made in that time, it has never questioned his ability to make them, or whether his age made any difference at all.

Biden has been doing this job for three years, but it’s actually more like fifty. He’s been angling towards it most of his life, and now we can see why. He always knew he could do it, he never gave up wanting to do it, and when he finally got his chance to do it, he was ready.

He knows most of the players on both the national and international stages, many of them personally, many of them for decades. He’s done plenty of favors over the years, and he knows who owes him, and for what. He’s been in the room where it happened too many times to count, and nothing fazes him.

This is where age, far from a liability, is a distinct advantage. Yes, he’s getting older, but he’s also getting better. He is showing all the traits of someone just now hitting his stride.

His political instincts and reflexes are sharp. He knows who he is. He knows what he’s good at and bad at. He knows when he needs help and where he can get it. And, most crucially, he doesn’t care what you think of him.

This is the thing about aging that is so badly undervalued. We read all the time of vibrant, productive, often brilliant people working well into their nineties, many of them doing the best work of their lives. As a society, we value youth over experience, and there’s a case to be made for that. But it comes at a cost, a waste of natural resources.

This year just might be the craziest we ever live through. Every news cycle will bring new assaults on our already frazzled nerves. These will culminate, sometime in November, with an answer to the rather urgent question of how this country gets its shit together.

Between now and then, Biden’s time will be divided between campaigning like there’s no tomorrow, and running the country like there will be.

He brings discipline, experience, and hard-won wisdom to that rather daunting set of tasks. I think we can count on him to rise to the challenge, to take it all personally, and to bring his A-game.

This guy gets it. He gets that this is where his life has led him. He gets that it’s the most important thing he’s ever done. He understands the stakes, and his heart is clearly in it.

So if we have to bet the immediate future of the country on one person we can count on to do what he thinks is right — to make spectacularly difficult decisions guided by a moral compass most of us can easily live with — I'm quite sure Joe Biden’s our guy. Anyone disagree?


  1. I feel you! We have started our letter writing campaign to get out the Blue vote for Joe.

  2. It's well written and comes off almost like a studio bio. But from my perspective in the progressive camp, it doesn't resemble much my impression of Joe, but this type of coverage will be the gold standard heading into the convention and the general.

    Because of the MI uncommitted numbers, they've finally acknowledged us as a block. We're called "double-haters" having serious issues with both candidates that goes beyond lesser evil choices. Complicity in genocide is a deal breaker, even if the trains run on time.

    Biden needs to change course on participating in Bibi's genocide before it's too late.

    But it probably is too late, and he's declared there are no red lines. I think that his legacy will be returning Trump to office because he chose Israeli genocide over America's well-being.

    Hope it was worth it.


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