Opinion While America Struggles for its Soul, Biden Struggles for Relevance

12:15  02 june  2020
12:15  02 june  2020 Source:   politico.com

United States: first public release of Joe Biden since March 15

 United States: first public release of Joe Biden since March 15 © Olivier DOULIERY Joe Biden on May 25, 2020 at Veteran's Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware The Democratic candidate for the White House, Joe Biden, has Monday made its first public outing in more than two months, with a mask, for a brief wreath laying ceremony at a monument to American veterans near his home, on this Memorial Day holiday.

Andrew Delbanco is a professor of American studies at Columbia and the author, most recently, of “The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America ’s Soul From the Revolution to the Civil War,” from which this essay draws.

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There are many voices who see the violence and despair sweeping America this spring as the natural result of everything President Donald Trump stands for—of his divisive language and policies and worldview.

a man wearing a suit and tie: 200601_biden1_ap_773.jpg © Provided by POLITICO 200601_biden1_ap_773.jpg

It is easy to miss, but embedded in these condemnations is a perverse form of praise: The critics do not doubt the efficacy of Trumpian politics. To the contrary, the condemnations assign the president an undeniable agency. There is a clear link between ideas and consequences. People excoriate Trump, and in so doing ratify his relevance.

Relevance is the quality needed most urgently now by Joseph R. Biden Jr.

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This is a moment that challenges more than his limited stylistic range. The obstacles for the former vice president are more daunting than the logistics of being housebound in a pandemic. The crisis calls into question the earnest, cheerful, incremental brand of progressivism that animated Biden’s career for a half-century.

The picture of American cities aflame across the continent, in response to what African-Americans credibly regard as widespread police brutality and racism, is a soul-depleting return to an earlier age.

As it happens, it is an age the 77-year-old Biden knows well. He told an audience last year he decided to organize his life around politics during the violent traumas of 1968—the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, and the racial and anti-war riots that ensued across the country that spring and summer.

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Biden’s own words make the year a useful prism for viewing both his present circumstances—even a few weeks ago they would have seemed beyond belief—and the broader premises on which a lifetime in politics have rested.

Biden was 25 years old for most of 1968, working as a clerk at a Delaware law firm. Forty years would pass, all but four of them in the U.S. Senate, until Biden was tapped as running mate by Barack Obama on his way to becoming the nation’s first African-American president. There was an event that affirmed the essence of Biden’s steady, temperate liberalism—striking evidence that the system is on the level, that history moves toward light, that people of good will can overcome America’s original sin of racism.

Could Biden, or even Obama, possibly have imagined 12 years ago how perishable those gains would seem today? How profoundly many African-Americans, and others, believe many institutions are simply not on the level and are not getting gradually better? And how, in such a climate, the voice of a divisive but omnipresent performer like Trump could make Biden seem almost inaudible in the storm?

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African Americans rescued Biden 's flailing primary campaign earlier in the spring, but it ' s unclear if they will turn out for him in large number in He's called the White House contest a battle for the soul of the nation and has been particularly forceful in condemning Trump's handling of moments of racial

Biden is making a play for Pennsylvania, which is a state Trump won in 2016 by less than 1 percentage point. Since announcing his presidential bid, Biden held his first rally in Pittsburgh In his email, BIden said that Trump's insults are proof that he "doesn’t understand the struggles working folks go through."

As it happens, 1968 also offers another vivid example of a progressive but conventional politician out of step with the urgencies of the moment. Although Biden, like many Democrats of his generation, often invoked the Kennedys as a political figure he more closely resembles another tragic leader of that time: Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey.

Humphrey that year was defending President Lyndon B. Johnson’s unpopular war in Vietnam, a problem Biden thankfully does not have. But like Biden (who later served with Humphrey in the Senate before his 1978 death), the vice president was a garrulous man whose personal decency and progressive instincts were genuine and widely respected, even by Republicans. And like Biden—at least as 2020 has unfolded so far—Humphrey had trouble finding the right emotional pitch during a year of national anguish.

When he announced his candidacy in late April 1968—a few weeks after King’s murder and not quite six weeks before Kennedy’s—he spoke of wanting to infuse his party with a “politics of joy.”

It was a line that flowed naturally from his own ebullient personality—and seemed shockingly disconnected to the country’s reality. Kennedy mocked him in reply: “It is easy to say this is the politics of happiness—but if you see children starving in the Delta of Mississippi and despair on the Indian reservations, then you know that everybody in America is not satisfied.”

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden to meet George Floyd's family

  Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden to meet George Floyd's family Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden will travel to Houston on Monday and meet with the family of George Floyd, two weeks after Floyd's death in police custody triggered nationwide protests over racial injustice, two senior aides said. © Reuters/JIM BOURG U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event in Dover Biden is expected to offer his sympathies to Floyd's relatives and record a video message for Floyd's funeral service, which is taking place later in the day in Houston, the aides said.

But it ’ s been a struggle for Biden . With the Democratic primaries frozen in time – and Sen. Biden basically disappeared from the airwaves and online at the same time that President Trump became a It got its first use on Monday, when Biden delivered remarks on coronavirus. “Donald Trump is not to

Good morning, on today's show, author, Andrew Delbanco, joins us to discuss his book, The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America ’s Soul From the Revolution to the Civil War. We are live at 12:00 ET. Majority Report LIVE @ THE BK PODFEST, 2:30 PM January 13th

Humphrey, who had been a leader on civil rights since the 1940s, would have regarded the problems of 2020 as at least a partial failure of his own legacy. Minneapolis---that genial, sensible, sturdy city which Humphrey once served as mayor—was the same place where Officer Derek Chauvin put his knee on George Floyd’s neck and wouldn’t take it off.

If changing circumstances have left Biden with trouble finding his voice, they of course also present him with new opportunities if he can find it. Here is a country simultaneously battling economic depression that, at least temporarily, evokes the 1930s and psychic depression—the result of rage disconnected from hope—that evokes the 1960s. Surely a man who has lived so much history has some lessons to offer.

The former vice president, wearing a mask and taking notes, met on Monday with African-American religious leaders at the Bethel AME Church in his hometown of Wilmington, Del. It was his most extended in-person event in weeks.

He told the group that in coming weeks he would address the problems of “institutional structures” and “institutional racism” in a series of “very serious national speeches.”

Well, there’s something to wait for. Until then, if he wants to avoid sounding like Humphrey in 1968, Biden might do well to recall what himself was thinking and feeling in that year of violence and fragility.

“Unless I’m mistaken,” Biden told Dartmouth University students, “Donald Trump did for your generation what the loss of two of my heroes did for mine,” he told the students, adding, “What they did was make you realize, ‘My God, we’re in trouble.’ ”

"It's time for racial justice to be done": Biden speaks at the funeral for George Floyd .
Joe Biden spoke at the funeral for George Floyd, which took place in Texas on Tuesday. © David J. Phillip / Pool / Reuters Joe Biden An important speech during a tense period. Tuesday, Joe Biden gave a broadcast speech at the funeral of George Floyd , who was killed during his arrest by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25.

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