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Sorry Joe Biden, you can’t just walk into the White House on the back of Barack Obama

While many Democrats still hold the Obama presidency in high regard, relying so much on another man’s work hasn’t helped to define what a Biden presidency would look like

Carli Pierson
Thursday 01 August 2019 15:49 BST
Democratic debate: Joe Biden heckled over deportation

Joe Biden’s performance in Wednesday night’s Democratic debates in Detroit was far better than his lacklustre effort in Miami, back in June, when he was criticised for being unenergetic and ambiguous. But it still wasn’t good enough.

Coming into night two of the second leg of primary debates, Biden was leading the polls – the frontrunner for the democratic nominees – and CNN gave him plenty of airtime to make his case for the presidency. Wednesday night pit Biden against Kamala Harris, with the other candidates left to attack the two leading figures. And Biden got most of the heat.

Granted, his answers were more specific than in the first round of debates; he was more energetic than his previous appearance, but the former vice president was nothing but unremarkable. Nearly everything but his quip to Harris to “take it easy on me, kid” felt predictable, forgettable, or both. His opening comments, that he wanted to “restore the soul of the country”, fell flat as he sounded inauthentic and contrived.

Just like in Miami, Biden relied heavily on his work inside the Obama administration as his justification for a presidential nomination. And although his plans were now more detailed – he had thankfully done some preparation this time – the former VP wasn’t nevertheless unable to distinguish himself from the other centrists in the pack. Cory Booker pointed out Biden’s tendency to invoke his work for Obama administration whenever it is convenient for him. Booker is right: when asked by the hosts whether deportations would increase if he were elected president, Biden dodged the question. Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, then asked Biden to respond directly to the deportation issue, which he again evaded with the excuse that his advice to Obama was confidential and explained that he [Biden] was not president when those policies were made.

Biden’s reliance on his position as Obama’s VP has been a double-edged sword since day one. While many Democrats still hold the Obama presidency in high regard, relying so much on another man’s work hasn’t helped define what a Biden presidency would look like. He has also been reluctant to admit to Obama administration failures, or his own failures in his long career as a public official, which has left him vulnerable to his political opponents.

Biden’s reference to his work on women’s rights legislation wasn’t enough to undo his history of making women uncomfortable with his style of physical contact, or his subsequent inability to recognise the gravity of those allegations and apologise.

On other issues, Biden’s promises to rejoin Paris climate accord and establish a $1,000 deductible for health insurance is the bare minimum needed to call oneself a Democrat. But as I wrote yesterday, the bare minimum simply won’t cut it in 2020.

Kirsten Gillibrand joked that, if she was elected president, the first thing she would do would be to Clorox the Oval Office. The US and the world needs someone who will Clorox the entire US political establishment; more of the same, albeit with minor tweaks, isn’t want America wants or needs.

Of course experienced politicians such as Biden will modify their positions and their policy proposals according to the evolution of society’s values and the tenor of their constituencies. And it is only fair that our public servants are permitted to make mistakes and grow as people.

But in remarkable times we need a remarkable candidate. Joe Biden is not that person.

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