Berman: Biden and the importance of being earnest

Laura Berman
The Detroit News

When Joe Biden announced he wouldn’t be hiking the presidential campaign trail, the news created a slow leak of disappointment, like a tire’s soft hiss after hitting a pothole on a Michigan road.

For days, Fox News and its White House correspondent Ed Henry had touted his sources on the Biden run for president as a semi-sure thing: Henry was staking his reputation on sources that failed. Rush Limbaugh used the ascendancy of Biden to ridicule female journalists – “the press gaggle” – covering Hillary Clinton, crediting (or blaming) the “chickification” of the news for sympathetic coverage of a politician he reviles.

Night after night, CNN streamed a “Waiting for Joe Biden” banner, as if we were all camping out in front of our TV screens for the political equivalent of a NASA moon launch. The excitement was partly media-made, partly response to voter curiosity. The prospect of a Biden candidacy had a certain deliciousness: A run would add contention and uncertainty to a Democratic party contest that, post-debate, was moving steadily in the Hillary direction.

Biden will not run for president in '16

Meanwhile, Biden dallied, while we pondered. He provided a counterpoint to Clinton. She’s so polished and packaged and over-prepared, she’s hard to trust. He’s more spontaneous and real, qualities that resonated in deeper ways since the death of his son Beau last spring. It was Beau, he told everyone, who urged him to make another run for the White House.

A month ago, Stephen Colbert stoked Biden fever, pressing the vice president to run and encouraging his studio audience to erupt into a “Joe! Joe! Joe!” chant. That was the night Biden talked about his son’s death, and his uncertainty about his own readiness to run a single-minded campaign.

“I don’t think any man or woman should run for president unless, No. 1, they know exactly why they would want to be president. Two, they can look at the folks out there and say, ‘I promise you have my whole heart, my whole soul, energy and my passion to do this.’ And I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there. I’m being completely honest.”

Colbert’s earnestness and Biden’s created an unusually intimate round of talk show conversation, stoking rumors that he would embark on a last minute run. He didn’t – and that was likely a smart move. As appealing as Biden’s candor can be, it’s also risky. Can you elect a president whose frequent gaffes made him the political equivalent of Yogi Berra?

“We love Joe but glad he is not running,” one of my Facebook friends – a man – wrote, aptly summing up the uncertainty of a Biden campaign.

In his Rose Garden speech Wednesday, Biden referred to his nickname, “Middle Class Joe,” with pride and self-awareness, clear that it was intended as an insult but one he accepts with pride. He hinted at the campaign he might have run, had he not run out of time or enough time to raise the money he would need.

“At our core, I’ve always believed that what sets America apart from every other nation is that we, ordinary Americans, believe in possibilities — unlimited possibilities,” he said. Most of us want to believe in that America of unlimited possibilities. Biden’s gift is that he can convince us he really does.

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