Melinda Henneberger

It’s painful to watch Joe Biden being Al Gored. I’ve seen this movie before

Meet the Candidate: Joe Biden

Joe Biden is back on the campaign trail. Here's a quick look at the 2020 presidential contender.
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Joe Biden is back on the campaign trail. Here's a quick look at the 2020 presidential contender.

I keep reading that no one — not even Jill Biden — actually prefers Joe Biden to the other Democratic presidential candidates. Supposedly, he is a front-runner who is solely supported, with tiny sighs and great regret, by those too fearful to follow their hearts. My friend Walter Shapiro has written that Biden is the “safety school” of Democrats — regarded fondly, but the first choice of nobody.

Early admission: He’s my Harvard, OK? And I do not favor the former vice president because I think he has the best chance of winning, which may or may not be true.

Instead, if the contest were tomorrow, I’d vote Biden because I think he’d do the best job if we did manage to grab the wheel away from a president who reminds me more every day of “Vinny the Chin” Gigante, a mob boss who used to go around New York City in his bathrobe and house shoes, babbling to himself. (Vinny might have been faking madness to stay out of prison, but the guy currently faking sanity to stay in the Oval Office does a pretty good Vinny imitation all the same.)

So how is it that everywhere I go, I meet Biden supporters who don’t know they’re settling? And how is it that only we nonexistent Joe enthusiasts seem to be able to see each other?

At a wedding in New York, changing planes in Washington, over coffee in Boston and on my porch in Kansas City, what I hear from pro-Joe Democrats is hardly resignation. Nor is it some complicated, defeatist calculus about how appealing non-Trump-loving Republicans might find him.

A childhood friend in Illinois talks about how blessedly comfortable Biden makes her feel — and if you think “comfortable” means meh, you must have slept through the past three fun-filled years.

His authenticity and experience are exactly what the country needs now, says a former colleague in Florida.

And best of all, he would have no learning curve, so he could get right to work undoing the damage caused by what’s-his-name, says a therapist in North Carolina.

“He’s a good, honorable, smart, decent, civil man who has dedicated his entire life to public service,” says Morna Murray, executive director of the Rhode Island Disability Law Center and former senior counsel to Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. “He was a great senator and vice president, and I’m pretty sure it does not get much better than that!”

It’s early in the campaign, and I’m not even trying to win converts; love who you love, and I will, too. But pundits, please stop insisting that nobody is excited about Biden’s candidacy, or that he’s the head-over-heart guy who appeals only to those making a bloodless, Vulcan and strictly strategic choice.

Really, have you met Joe Biden, people? I ask because if you’ve glimpsed him at any point over the past 40 years, you may have noticed that his biggest selling point is his giant heart, and the way that after multiple tragedies, he walks through the world as the compassionate consoler and messy, highly emotional and ever-ready empathizer we do need most right now. It’s strange for those of us who appreciate these qualities in him most of all to then be told that we shouldn’t be so passionless and practical in choosing a candidate.

It’s so painful to watch Biden being Al Gored, with every utterance shorn of context in service to the narrative. Then, it was that Gore exaggerated. And he did, but the planet is considerably worse off today because we were saved from that nightmare. Today, of course, it’s that Biden is gaffe-prone. And he is, but by getting stuck on Biden gaffes as we did on Gore exaggerations, the planet will be worse off.

Now, maybe this is not completely unlike that day in fourth grade when our teacher Miss Wiswall said, “No one in here still believes in Santa Claus, do they?” and I put my hand up and said, “I do.”

Not because I didn’t know the other kids would laugh, and not even because I believed in Santa Claus, but because I wished I did, and wanted to stand up for innocence, or maybe just contrarianism, and against being told what to think. What if some other 9-year-old was sitting there crushed at the news? But back to Joe Biden … him I do believe in.

This column originally appeared in USA Today.

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