I’ve never written a predictive op-ed before. It’s not my scene. I don’t have a crystal ball. And I prefer exploring possibilities to betting on them.
But I’m making an exception to predict that Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr., will be a great U.S. President.
Naturally, such a ranking isn’t quantifiable. And per the nature of partisan politics, the nation can rarely settle its collective mind on such a thing. So let me refine my prediction just a bit:
I’m not saying he’ll be great by some measure, or great only to the left.
I’m saying he’ll go down in history as a great U.S. President.
I’m not just manic. This isn’t me honeymooning. Nor is this a basic Biden true believer talking. I was all in for Bernie. I thought Biden was over. But seeing the pieces come together, and settling into the details of the man’s personality, I think he’s not only positioned to rise high, but actually capable of it.
First, some distractions to relieve ourselves of. The biggest one is: We settled for Biden. Democrats, that is, and then the nation on the whole. We settled for yet another straight white male. We settled for a neoliberal corporate moderate over a dyed-in-green progressive. We settled for normalcy over revolution, preserving the norms of capitalism and militarism just to attain certain comforting norms of communication and federal management.
And in settling, meanwhile, we didn’t do much, the Democrats, to expand our cause or broaden our appeal. Trump was gaining more voters from ‘16 to ‘20 (63 million to 74 million). Moreover, Trump was gaining Black and brown voters. This happened because Democrats and Republicans alike rejected wokeness, by which I mean not the original Black wokeness (i.e., being awake to systemic racism, which shouldn’t be controversial; even George W. Bush is) but the co-opted suburban “Karen” wokeness, which consists of berating and canceling people online for cognitive infractions in which they part from liberal groupthink.
Exhausted with wokeness and fearful of themselves getting canceled, many Americans found safety and validation on the right; indeed, Trump campaigned openly against Karen wokeness, but the left never heard it because we only heard his most outrageous sound bites. That was, though, the core of Trump’s inane appeal: he not only highlighted the left’s most conformist and controlling qualities, he routinely trolled us into demonstrating them for all the world to see.
Grounded lefties would not choose Trump, but per a similar set of motives, we gravitated toward Joe Biden. We wanted less noise. We missed the era of Obama. We needed a safe bet to beat back the Orange Man’s bullshit.
But I say to you now, despite the fact that we settled, Joe Biden will be a great President.
It doesn’t happen with spouses. It’ll happen with Biden. Reason being, Biden is deceptively standard but authentically lit. In other words, though policy-wise and party-wise he’s of the same stripe as John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, two recent failed Democratic presidential candidates who we ran for the very same reasons as Biden — safety, bet-hedging, practicality — those guys lost due to a failure to be down-to-Earth and connect emotionally.
But Biden’s personability isn’t his inside straight. It’s part of it, yes, but it’s merely the outer shell around his inner gift:
That gift is empathy.
Among my friends, I like to brag that I “speak conservative.” I don’t do it on Facebook, where I troll conservatives, but out in meatspace, where life happens, I speak the language, understanding their small government, low-taxation, anti-regulation value systems (believe me, it’s been difficult since 2016). I don’t dehumanize them. I don’t revert to condescension. I don’t start explaining the “correct” worldview to them. I’m able to do this because I read their books and consume their media. I also listen to what they have to say. Many of them are morons, yes, but then again so are countless liberals. And if I brag now, it’s not to persuade anyone of my humanity, but to arrive at a greater point about Obama…
The stories are emerging, little by little. It’s hard to criticize Obama, and not just because of his race, but because of his unflappable, impeccable, preternaturally confident modes of presentation and expression. But the stories trickled out during Biden’s run: Obama was condescending as a president. Obama lectured Congressional Republicans. Obama told them what to think and what was good for them and their constituents.
This never works, telling the right what to think. It’s no accident that Michael Moore’s two movies urging people not to vote for W. (“Fahrenheit 9/11”) and Trump (“Michael Moore in Trumpland”) respectively only served to rally each candidate’s base and support their victories. You can’t lecture the party of “Don’t tread on me.” You can’t shape their worldview by insisting upon your own.
In 2016, Obama ditched Biden’s presidential prospects to hitch his wagon to Hillary’s. Biden’s son was dying, Hillary was utterly and uniquely qualified, and Obama made what he thought was the ideal call. By all accounts, Biden didn’t want to run anyway. But then again, had Obama supported it, old Joe could have certainly gone the other way.
Biden didn’t resent him. He’s not that kind of person. But he didn’t forget, either. And when he won in November, it was with no small amount of pride that Biden pointed out how his ticket had earned the most votes in American history.
Pride won’t be Biden’s leading feature, though. It’ll be empathy, prominent, baked into the federal pie, and emitting its soothing aroma every day. Oh, I’m certainly worried about the Republicans, and how eager they were for four more years of lies, danger, and hysterics, and I don’t nurture any fantasies of them all seeing what I see right now, but I also must say I see the following:
Biden speaks conservative. He’s friends with Mitch McConnell. He speaks progressive, also: Bernie Sanders highlights Biden as one of his only Democratic colleagues who met his Democratic Socialism with curiosity rather than snap judgments. And do you think picking Kamala Harris as his running mate, and shattering three glass ceilings (Woman, Black, Asian) in the process, was something a man of mildness would do?
Sometimes moderates are moderate ‘cause they’re all things to all people: pleasers, settlers, diplomats, balancers, safety zoners.
That was certainly the case with Kerry and Hillary.
But sometimes moderates are that way for a more extreme reason: They empathize with everyone. They hear and know all the arguments. They lack partisan fervor not due to a weakness of conviction, but due to a novel strength of sheer humanity.
That’s what we need right now. To heal. To unify. To have a workable Congress and an amiable nation.
I predict Joe Biden will be the next great American President.