During his 34 minute speech in London, Joe Biden spoke of the dangers posed by “demagogues and charlatans”, the pernicious spread of “xenophobia and phoney populism” by deplorable leaders who “exploit fear of the ‘other’ for their own advantage” and the fallacy of “hiding behind walls”. He did not mention Donald Trump by name once.
But the first question following the address at the Chatham House thinktank was whether he would seek the Democratic nomination for the 2020 election, run against Trump, and whether, as a candidate, he would have a better grasp of foreign policy than the current president.
Almost any Democratic candidate would have a “more enlightened foreign policy” than Trump, responded Biden. As for himself, he was not an “aspiring candidate at this point”. He maintained, however, that during the coming midterms the Democrats “will win 40 seats in the House” – which means they would take control of the chamber – and “there is a better than even chance we win the Senate”.
A month before the 2020 race begins in earnest Barack Obama’s former vice president appears to be in campaign mode, making appearances for Democratic candidates in the midterms and also meeting with prospective donors. He has raised, according to reports, $200,000 for his Political Action Committee (PAC) in just two fundraising meetings last week and more are re being lined up.
The former vice president has said recently that he would wait until January before deciding whether to run at the next presidential election. But he is now 76 and, realistically, the next election would be his last shot at reaching the White House.
Biden may have to declare his intentions earlier with other heavyweight candidates positioning themselves for a run. As the former vice president was speaking, Michael Bloomberg, the former New York mayor and the owner of the international media conglomerate, was announcing that he was rejoining the Democratic Party because of “the need to provide checks and balances our nation so badly needs” to protect itself from the Trump administration.
The shadow of Donald Trump hung over Biden’s London speech – he spent much of the question and answer session which followed refuting the Trump mantra. He robustly defended the European Union and Nato, two organisations the US president had routinely denigrated: criticised the president’s trade wars with “its false security of hiding behind barriers” and deplored the moral equivalence Trump had drawn in Charlottesville between “low-lifes who appeared carrying torches and placards shouting antisemitic slogans reminiscent of Nuremberg and white supremacists and those people who opposed them”.
The traditional shared values of western liberal democracy, which underpinned the “special relationship” between the US and Britain, and unified Europe, needed to be protected, Biden wanted to stress, from politicians who espoused nationalism and promoted intolerance with the use of falsehood. He used the word “charlatan” four times in describing the people he meant.
Biden reiterated the views expressed by him, Barack Obama and others in his administration, including Hillary Clinton, that Britain should stay within the European Union and that it was in the interest of the US that it should do so. Mr Trump, of course, has been loudly championing Brexit.
“It seems to me that there is a growing awareness in Europe and around the world that Britain played a role in Europe over the last 30 years that went well beyond the notion of open borders, trade and all these other things – being able to influence attitudes about things that have nothing to do with the elements of the EU state” said Biden.
“There is a special relationship, we have been locked cheek and jowl on almost every important issue that exists, and so without England being totally integrated in the EU to the extent that it is distanced from that diminishes our ability to have influence on events on the Continent”.
The questions returned to the US domestic scene and the bitter confrontation over Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment by Trump to the Supreme Court.
Biden pointed out his efforts to encourage women to expose abuse they had suffered after the hearing over another, previous, Supreme Court nomination, that of Clarence Thomas, who was accused of sexual misconduct by law professor Anita Hill.
Trump has publicly mocked Dr Christine Blasey Ford, who has claimed she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh in he past and stated that he did not believe her or other women who had made similar claims against the Judge.
America faces fundamental issues about the future said Biden: “What we believe in, the values we hold, are being shattered. We face a battle for the soul. Who are we? What are we? What defines us as a people now?” The 47th vice president of the country, the man who may well seek to lead the nation as it seeks answers to these questions, concluded.
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