Why anyone thinks a guy who used to be a loyal voter in the Senate for his home state's banking interests is in the strongest position to run as an economic populist is a question no one has adequately answered.
January 16, 2019

I don't believe Joe Biden is the Democrats' strongest 2020 candidate, but I also don't believe he should stay out of the race, as Frank Bruni does. In response to Bruni, his New York Times op-ed colleague David Leonhardt eagerly encourages Biden to run.

Run because you have strengths that no other Democratic candidate does, including your depth of experience and connection to the Obama presidency. Run because your populist image fits the Democrats’ most successful political strategy of the past generation.

Leonhardt is one of those pundits who believes that Democrats will win by picking off white Rust Belt votes. He thinks the best Democratic message is populism, as he defines it -- economic progressivism combined with centrism on social and cultural issues (guns, immigration, racism and sexism).

Setting aside the question of whether this is the right approach, I wonder why Leonhardt thinks a guy who used to be a loyal voter in the Senate for his home state's banking interests is in the strongest position to run as an economic populist. What Leonhardt won't say is that Biden seems like a populist because he performs old-school New Deal white-ethnic populism better than the rest of the field. By now he might have changed his positions enough to actually be a true champion of ordinary Americans. But he seems qualified for the role mostly because he looks the part.

Well, whatever -- let him run and let him make his case. Let the other candidates make theirs. The debate will be edifying.

But here's the weirdest thing Leonhardt says:

[Biden] also has strengths as a candidate that the others do not. Imagine that the Trump administration descends further into chaos, through some combination of investigations and incompetence. It could certainly happen. In that case, Americans may no longer be so enamored of an outsider. They may be looking for a more reassuring figure than, say, a recently defeated senatorial candidate. To put it another way: If Mike Pence is president by year’s end, shouldn’t Democrats want Biden to be an option?

First of all, the last time we had an election after a presidency descended this far into chaos, the candidate we elected was a little-known peanut farmer and one-term governor. We may want a return to normalcy after Trump, but normalcy doesn't necessarily mean electing somebody who's been in politics forever.

But beyond that, there's the fact that just two months ago a female-skewed electorate elected a bloc of new legislators who are women. Trump is a sexist pig and possible sex criminal. Pence is a God-bothering prig who'd be perfectly at ease living in Margaret Atwood's Gilead. With those two on the other side, does Leonhardt really think the best candidate for the Democrats would be an elderly guy from the pre-feminist era who, for all his sincere support for the Violence Against Women Act, still has the stain of the Anita Hill hearings on his record, not to mention a handsiness problem with women?

What's the argument here? That only an aging white daddy can calm our anxieties? After we just elected two old-white-guy archetypes -- the CEO and the Bible-thumping traditionalist hubby -- and they drove the country off a cliff?

Let's try another black person, or a woman, or a black woman, or a youngish white skate rat. Or individual old white dudes can make the case or themselves as individuals, not as archetypes of reassuring-old-white-dudeness. In any case, we shouldn't assume that old white dudes are the default choice -- not now.

Republished with permission from No More Mr. Nice Blog

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