A lament for Joe Biden
Bid farewell to Joe Biden. I say that with regret, for the former vice president is the nicest of fellows, lacking malice, who likes people and likes doing something for them. Yet, his gaffes continue feeding the impression that he is a touch gaga, and, worse, no one can complete the sentence: "Joe Biden because ... ."
That's not the case with Elizabeth Warren, who is an ideologue (that's not an insult) -- or with Bernie Sanders, another ideologue (that is an insult) or with some of the other Democratic presidential candidates, who at the very least benefit from not being while males.
The other day, Biden set what one hopes is his personal best in getting things wrong or, to be quite blunt, almost entirely fictional. In Hanover, New Hampshire, he told the story of pinning a Silver Star on a Navy officer who had risked his life in Afghanistan to retrieve the body of a comrade. The officer had rappelled into a 60-foot ravine and brought back the body. As for Biden, he said he had traveled to Konar province, a remote and dangerous part of Afghanistan for the ceremony, waving off warnings.
"We can lose a vice president," Biden said. "We can't lose many more of these kids. Not a joke."
Not the truth, either.
Biden mixed elements of three different stories. He did travel to Konar, but when he was serving in the Senate, not as vice president. The brave Navy captain was actually an Army specialist, and he received the Medal of Honor, not the Silver Star, and not in Afghanistan, but at the White House -- from Barack Obama. The story is a gridlock of inaccuracies, a concatenation of failing memory and misty remembrances. It is the rocking-chair tale of an old man, sure, but it is above all about the sweet humanity of Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., a man no one can hate. In America today, that is a singular achievement.
Contrast Biden with the megalomaniacal fool in the White House now. The Washington Post's indefatigable Fact Checker team, whom I envisage as panting and skeletal, counts over 12,000 false or misleading statements from Donald Trump. The president lies at hello, in his sleep, in the shower. I imagine him talking to his cans of Diet Coke and the ghost of Roy Cohn, his one-time lawyer and a man of vile malevolence.
But the comparison is not apt. No one can be compared to Trump. Biden must be judged on his own. So, on his own, he is a geyser of flubs, of almost-happenings. He has recently mistaken New Hampshire for Vermont, and he recounted a moving visit to the White House by the kids of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when he was vice president. But the veep at the time of the 2018 mass shooting was, of course, Mike Pence. Biden gets so much wrong. But, always, his heart is in the right place.
Biden's problem is not only today, but tomorrow. He is 76 and, if elected president, would be in his 80s before the end of his first term. Not even Winston Churchill had all his faculties at that age. And while Biden, who unlike Sir Winston does not have whiskey for breakfast, seems in excellent physical shape, his campaign thus far gives no reassurance that he is of keen mind. On the contrary, his confused statements betray a certain confusion.
You can tell, can't you, that I like Joe Biden. I know him a bit, and I like him as a man and as a politician. He was a toucher and an embracer -- no longer endearing traits -- but that was his way of showing he cared. He is smarter than he sometimes seems. He was ultimately right about George W. Bush's inane war in Iraq and he's been right about getting out of Afghanistan. He was even right about the 1994 crime bill, which might have been an overreaction to a crisis, but it did ban assault weapons. He has also earned the right to be wrong and to have learned from his mistakes. Robert F. Kennedy, a liberal icon, had once worked for the left's ultimate boogeyman, Sen. Joseph McCarthy. RFK needed to be forgiven.
But as I have written previously, Biden's unheard campaign tune is "September Song," an old man's lament for young love. It plays silently in the background, as sad as aging itself. "And I'm not equipped for the waiting game," the man sings. Neither is Joe Biden.
Richard Cohen's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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