Empathy should be a factor in 2020
WASHINGTON -- In 2008, when Sarah Palin entered the stage to debate her fellow vice presidential candidate, Joe Biden, she asked him first thing: "Hey, can I call you Joe?"
It was a charming moment. In Palin's aw-shucks manner, she not only neutralized Biden as a formidable foe but reminded folks watching at home that she was just a gal from Wasilla, Alaska, who liked to keep things simple and personal. It may have been the only brilliant line to come from the then-governor of Alaska that night.
In reality, the reason she asked to call him Joe was because during debate preparations, according to her memoirs, she had called him "O'Biden." Obama, O'Biden, get it? Finally, her team advised her to just-call-him-Joe.
A couple of years later, I asked Biden how much he had held back during the debate, figuring he had been instructed to treat her gingerly, to avoid appearing the bully or a show off.
He laughed and said, "A lot!"
But the truth is, Biden wouldn't have had to try very hard to be generous with Palin. Notwithstanding his handling of the 1991 interrogation of Anita Hill as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when she testified against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas for sexual harassment, he is naturally kind. And, as we've recently been reminded, affectionate.
Most important, in contrast to President Trump, Biden is freighted with copious supplies of empathy. While his well-known personal losses have made him a fuller man capable of great compassion, Trump seems to have been born without the capacity to feel anything for others beyond their utilitarian value. Following his annual physical in February, the surprise wasn't that he has a strong heart but that he has one at all.
The question for Biden, who became the 21st Democrat to toss his hat in the ring, is whether he is tough enough to be president. And, given the youthful fervor of the Democratic Party these days, is he, at age 76, too old?
I'd never say someone is too old for a given job, assuming qualifications and good health. I might question why anyone would want to be president at any age, but Biden's explanation rings true. He is viewed by many as the candidate most likely to take Trump down. To kill him with kindness, as it were, as well as with experience, knowledge and a remarkable personal history.
That Biden isn't a cauldron of raging hormones, or shouting slogans of radical change, is likely more comforting than not to many Americans, including baby boomers who aren't dead yet and who tend to vote. Moreover, he's a longtime populist and activist for America's working class, thus perfectly positioned to woo back some of the almost 40 million white working-class Americans who voted for Trump.