The Acrimony Primary (Ep. 203)
This week’s podcast features comedian and Portland radio personality Carl Wolfson as the gang discusses Joe Biden entering the Democratic primary race and what that portends for the 2020 election.
This week’s podcast features comedian and Portland radio personality Carl Wolfson as the gang discusses Joe Biden entering the Democratic primary race and what that portends for the 2020 election.
by Kevin Kelton
Among the first questions former Vice President Joe Biden will face on the campaign trail is whether he thinks congress should begin impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. Several candidates have already weighed in with qualified (and in the case of Elizabeth Warren, unqualified) answers of “yes.”
But Joe Biden is a different type of presidential candidate, whose candidacy should be based on character, decency and raising the standards of decorum back to where they once stood. So here’s the answer I hope Biden gives to the impeachment question:
I’m not going to answer that directly because I think it’s unseemly for a candidate to call for the removal of his or her political opponent, just as I thought it was unseemly when candidate Donald Trump was going around the country saying that his opponent should be ‘locked up.’
But I will say this: the House of Representatives and the Senate both have an important responsibility for oversight and to hold the executive branch accountable. Because no one, not even a president of the United States, is above the law.
And if you ask me if I think the president committed obstruction of justice? The answer is an unqualified, ‘yes.’
If Biden can nail the right answers on his first few campaign questions – such as Medicare expansion versus single payer Medicare For All, the Green New Deal, and issues of income inequality – he will go a long way toward assuring the 2020 electorate that he’s in step with today’s Democratic base and is not a throwback to the 1990s.
Joe Biden is a great American and great public servant who could make a great Commander in Chief. All he has to do is prove he can be a great candidate.
Kevin Kelton is the co-host of The More Perfect Union podcast and a founder of Open Fire Politics.
This MPU episode looks at the redacted Mueller Report and how Democrats should respond to it in congress and on the 2020 campaign trail.
This week, the MPU hosts celebrate their 200th broadcast by reflecting on the week in politics. They also talk about the history of the podcast, let us meet their families, and share some fun surprises along the way.
by Kevin Kelton
We rarely do this, but I am going to respectfully rebut the opinion article of my fellow More Perfect Union host, Rebekah Kuschmider, on the subject of Joe Biden. Yes, this is a debate, and no, there is no hate. Just a lot of disappointment.
You see, I agree with Rebekah that we need to have a serious dialogue in this country about women’s rights and male behaviors. Men have gotten way too free with our hands and our attitudes over the last several decades, and there is no excuse for it. We have badly abused our role and our rights in how we relate to women in the workplace, the dating world, and even on the campaign trail. It’s a long-overdue conversation, and we men need to do a hefty dose of active listening.
But the current kerfuffle over Joe Biden isn’t about the #MeToo movement or women’s personal body space. Let’s get honest here. If women wanted to have a serious conversation about Biden’s behavior, it could have happened during his many years in public life prior to the eve of his entree into the 2019 primary race. It could have happened when he ran for president in 1988, or again in 2008, or during his eight years as vice president, or during the two years since. It could have been a sincere discussion about how millions of men his age, not just Joe Biden, have to re-learn what’s socially acceptable behaviors and come to a higher understanding of what’s appropriate forms of affection and what’s not.
Joe Biden has to learn it. Al Franken has to learn it. Garrison Keillor has to learn it. Donald Trump has to learn it. And millions of non-famous men like me have to learn it, too. It could have been a positive social discussion of gender and age and societal rules and changing social norms.
But it hasn’t been. Instead, it’s been a personal hit job on one very public man, just days before he enters the race for president.
So please don’t try to kid me that this is some high-minded social revolution that’s going on here. It is not. It is a very purposeful, very cruel attempt to destroy a single man’s reputation for petty partisan gain.
The people lining up to go public with their personal grievances with Joe Biden aren’t dispassionate non-partisans. They are self-admitted Sanders supporters, women who want to see a female at the top of the ticket, angry far-left liberals trying to stave off another moderate Democratic nominee, and of course Trump sycophants who’d love nothing more than to see the the campaign of the one Democrat they fear the most aborted before his primary run even begins.
As for the handful of women and men who may sincerely be outraged by “Uncle Joe’s” chauvinistic old-school manners, they are blinded by their own self-righteous indignation. The #MeToo movement should be used to advance relations between the sexes, not turn it into a take-no-prisoners blood match to the death.
Any honest study of Joe Biden would show that he acts that way with women and men, girls and boys. A simple Google image search turns up dozens of photos of Joe getting intimate and handsy with other men, with his sons, with his political opponents, even with his old boss, Barack Obama. It’s not that Joe is a creepy perv. It’s that he’s too publicly affectionate, period.
But that is not a crime worthy of public scorn and humiliation. Nor is it a reason to stop a good and highly qualified man from seeking the presidency.
As for Biden’s so-called accusers, let’s take a gander at their motives for a moment. It was telling that one of the women who suddenly came forward last week is an ardent pro-Bernie supporter, and the other used her five minutes of fame to advocate for a female nominee. They both smack of bitter political agendas, and their nasty attempt to turn Biden’s ham-fisted shows of public affection into some kind of creepy sexual predator persona is abominable.
The truth is, Joe Biden is an American hero. A deeply religious man who is clearly devoted to his family, he served his party and his country admirably for almost five decades, including being a great two-term vice president. He was one of the first high public figures to speak out in favor of same-sex marriage, forcing others to follow his lead, and he has been a true champion of women’s rights and gender rights. He’s made mistakes in the past, as pretty much every male of his generation has. (Including this writer.) But to publicly tar and feather him for minor transgressions of contemporary social mores is a sin of all four orders.
If Joe Biden is not the person to lead Democrats into the next election, let the voters decide at the polls. There are plenty of good reasons to support Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Roarke, Pete Buttigieg, or one of the many highly qualified women and people of color in the race. Let them make their cases and let Joe make his.
Yes, Rebekah, you’re 100% right – it’s high time we learn to treat women as equals with full control over their own bodies and their own autonomy. That conversation is ongoing and should continue. But doing it by hoisting a good man on a burning cross doesn’t make it holy. It makes it hollow.
So, with all due respect, I think it’s time we stop talking about Joe Biden. Biden isn’t what’s wrong with America or American politics. The “creepy Uncle Joe” caricature is.
We need to talk, yet again, about Joe Biden.
Only this time we’re not really talking about Joe Biden. Joe Biden is just an object lesson for all of us in the on-going dialogue about bodily autonomy and consent for physical contact.
For most of history as written by men of European descent, we have followed a sort of chattel-based idea of what behavior is appropriate between men and women; the gold standard of male behavior had to do with treating women the way you would want your wife or daughter treated. We still see that mindset now whenever a man responds to allegations other men committing acts of abuse or harassment by saying “I’m the father of daughters so I would never want guys to say that stuff to them!”
That’s wrong headed-thinking, as many before me have pointed out, because it values women only in their relationship to men, not as beings with inherent worth and dignity of their own. The correct response to mistreatment of women is “I am a human being and I would not want another human being treating me that way so I cannot accept any human being being treated that way.” Gender and relationships should be utterly irrelevant in how you treat people.
While that idea sounds logical and simple, it’s almost brand new. And no one is quite sure how to use it in practice.
The idea of every human being having inherent worth and dignity just by virtue of drawing breath is so controversial that we have never, ever, in all of human history managed to get it right. We see failures to acknowledge it at every turn: Unequal pay. Chattel slavery. Chattel marriage. Unfair divorce law. Legalized martial rape. Locker room talk. Dismissed claims of workplace harassment. Unfair criminal sentencing practices. Domestic abusers walking free.
We get it wrong at every turn and it’s why we have needed so many waves of civil rights movements to alter the landscape of society just to establish basic fairness. These movements and these changes don’t come without turmoil and the wise person welcomes all the messy discussion of what has happened in the past and what should happen in the future.
Which brings us to the question of whether Joe Biden is a wise person.
We all know Uncle Joe is a hugger. There are a million photos of him hugging people at public events, probably dating back to his earliest campaigns. And under the old rules, his hugging was no biggie. Would you be ok with the Vice President hugging your wife, in front of a million people? Sure! He’s Uncle Joe! He doesn’t mean anything by it. It’s cool.
But you – and he – forgot the part where you check with your wife about whether she wanted the hug. And women for generations forgot to ask themselves if they wanted the hug. We all just went with the unspoken idea that it was fine because it wasn’t anything illicit. It’s just a hug, right? Men can hug women and it’s fine, right?
And it was fine. For many years, that was considered fine. Today, however, in 2019, it is no longer fine and several women have spoken out to say just how not fine they found Biden’s hugs. We need to have a conversation about how to deal with the once-fine becoming the not-fine. This conversation is hard because we are literally standing on the border between the past and the future as it applies to this issue.
We are mere steps into a new phase of history, a phase where women are, for the first time, actively defining what is acceptable in terms of how others conduct themselves in relation to our bodies. If I had to draw a bright line between the Before and the After, I would paint it right up the crack of Harvey Weinstein’s ass. He is the tipping point between what was ok and what will be ok next.
Not that I’m comparing Weinstein’s level of violence and depravity to Joe Biden’s overzealous application of hugs. They aren’t the same thing at all. What is the same is the years of silence from women who were the objects of those wrongs, both large and small.
Just as everyone in politics knew Biden was a hugger, everyone in Hollywood knew Weinstein was a sexual predator. It went on for years, half in shadow, half in plain sight, and it took until 2017 for it all to come under the scrutiny we are seeing right now. In the case of men like Weinstein and Matt Lauer and Bill Cosby, the reckoning has been dramatic and suitably punitive. What they did was clearly wrong by any metric.
In the case of guys like Joe Biden, well. That’s different. His actions weren’t criminal. They were simply presumptuous and inconsiderate. They didn’t violate the law or even the rules of conduct that applied for most of his public career. How do we deal with that? What reckoning should men like Biden face when we confront them with their past and their future? That’s the conversation we have to have.
Nancy Pelosi hit the nail on the head when she was asked about Joe Biden this week. She said “He has to understand in the world that we’re in now that people’s space is important to them, and what’s important is how they receive it and not necessarily how you intended it.”
Joe Biden needs to apologize for not knowing better in the past, because he really didn’t seem to know. And he needs to pledge to do better now that he does know. He needs to show us he’s doing better by going in for the handshake, not the hug.
It’s not only Biden who will be grappling with this in the days and years to come. We all need to be thinking about how we treat others and how they want to be treated. While I don’t envy Biden the public scrutiny as he undergoes his personal period of reflection, I am pleased that we as a society are having this conversation at last.
This short podcast serves as a prequel for the upcoming 200th More Perfect Union episode, covering Betsy DeVos and her attack on the Special Olympics.
We need to talk some more about Joe Biden.
I was on here a couple of weeks ago denigrating the former Vice President for floating the idea that he could make up for a lack of diversity in his own self by bringing Stacey Abrams along for the ride if (when) he announced his candidacy. I was not alone in brushing that idea aside; Stacey Abrams didn’t like it much either. I can’t say for sure what her plans are, but they apparently do not involve hitching herself to someone else’s wagon.
So, now we’re left with Joe solo. We are mere days away from the beginning of the second fundraising quarter of the political year and this is the most likely moment for a Biden entrance into the field. His polling numbers look solid, I’m sure he can find big donors to bankroll this, and the media is getting bored with their Buttegieg love-fest and need a new object of affection. I fully expect Biden to join the primary race and, as I said in my last essay, I fully expect him to lose.
The primary. I think Biden will lose the primary. But I still believe that Joe Biden could beat Trump in the general.
Here’s the deal with Biden. He is a 100% vetted candidate. We know the Ballad of Biden from intro to outro, and if he launches a presidential campaign as a coda to his already long career, we still won’t be surprised by him. We all know the story of the death of his wife, his trips back and forth to Delaware on the train so his kids could stay in their schools. We know about his childhood in Scranton and the death of his son Beau to cancer. We remember him coldly questioning Anita Hill and we know he has been part of the machinery of many military actions over the years. We know that he added his name alleged reforms that ended up hurting people in poverty and people of color for generations. We know that he may know more about foreign policy than any other candidate and we know he’s more politically tone deaf on social issues than any other candidate.
We know Joe Biden. Right, left and center knows Joe Biden.
That knowledge is why the left is justifiably skeptical of Biden. For all his true blue Democratic bona fides – and he has plenty – he’s also an old, white, man with a lot of mistakes in his lengthy political past. He’s committed the kinds of sins that progressives don’t want to forgive any more. We are ready for the next generation of leaders and that’s why we are likely to pass over Biden on the road to the 2020 election.
But as a candidate in a general election? Our familiarity with Biden is his biggest strength. Trump could hire the best opposition research firm money can buy and he still won’t be able to find a single fact about Joe Biden that isn’t already common knowledge. There’s not chance of an October surprise when we’re talking about a candidate who’s a completely open book. Unless it turns out that Biden secretly killed Jimmy Hoffa, there’s nothing new that Trump can throw into the discourse that will change the entrenched public perception of Joe Biden.
Moreover, Biden doesn’t have a soft underbelly. He’s not afraid of making mistakes and he’s not afraid of apologizing. He’s not terribly good at apologizing, based on his latest half-hearted attempt to do so regarding Anita Hill, but he’s willing to try. He’s not controlled by shame or fear. He owns his past. He lets his record stand for what it is.
In those respects, Biden is Trump’s opposite. Trump is a man controlled by secrets and lies, terrified of being caught out, and reckless in his attempts to deflect criticism. There’s a new revelation about him at every turn and he can’t control his own emotional responses to them. He’s defensive, petty, and cruel and his record? Well, his record speaks for itself and all it says is “I put babies in cages”.
I’d wager that the general electorate would look at Biden v. Trump and see their way clear to putting Biden in the White House. He’s imperfect in so very many ways, but he’s also everyone’s favorite Uncle Joe and no one can deny that he’s qualified for the job. Donald Trump is more like Uncle Fester and his incompetence is quite plain.
As for whether or not Biden can bring home a crowd just through personality alone, well. Go back and take a look at his convention speech from 2016. Now think about this story I can share with you: my husband was seated behind the stage in the arena that night and could see the TelePromptrs. The text wasn’t scrolling for a lot of Biden’s speech. This wasn’t a canned message. This was the heart of Joe Biden, on stage for all the world to see.
There’s a lot for Democrats to think about on their way to the primary polls next year and everyone should vote their priorities. But if one of your priorities is the magical formula of electability, consider Joe Biden. I think he has it, even if I don’t think he’ll get the chance to use it.
On this week’s episode, the gang does a post-mortem on the findings of the Mueller Report and its impact on the 2020 election, the once-rumored pairing of Joe Biden and Stacey Abrams, and whether Pete Buttigieg could emerge as a real 2020 contender.
We need to talk about Joe Biden.
Joe Biden, Senator, Vice President, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, subject of a million memes, is inches away from jumping into the 2020 fray. I picture him like this, poised, waiting to swoop into the race.
But for all the meme-tasticness of Joe Biden, we need to acknowledge one thing about him and that is a thing we should be taking very seriously: he has more foreign policy experience than any other declared candidate.
That is not a minor distinction as the world eddies around the Trump Doctrine of foreign policy. We are on track to emerge from this administration with our traditional allies alienated and dictators emboldened by Trump’s encouragement of their standing as global power elites. The process of realigning our relationships back toward favoring democratic nations above dictatorships and rebuilding the trust we used to enjoy among NATO and beyond will take knowledge, skills, and determination. Biden’s experience as Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and his time as Vice President make him almost as qualified to do that as Hillary Clinton was in 2016.
Almost. She was the most foreign policy savvy candidate in a generation. But, you know. Her fucking emails or something.
We cannot idly dismiss the need for foreign policy expertise going into 2020 and if we have a top of ticket candidate who’s thin on that experience, they need to be damn sure to pick someone for Vice President or Secretary of State who’s a foreign policy powerhouse. Biden’s entry into the race will likely underscore that issue and it’s one we need to consider as we all make our primary choices.
Which brings us to Part Two of the Conversation About Biden. This week, rumors have been flying that Biden will select a running mate early. In so doing, he probably hopes to forestall criticism about his age by implicitly having a younger second in command who stands ready to step in – and possibly run at the top of the ticket in 2024 – if needed. He likely also hopes to bring in diversity with his VP pick and overcome all the whiteness and maleness that comes with the Biden brand.
He purportedly thinks he can accomplish all of this by inviting Stacey Abrams to be his Vice President.
I love Stacey Abrams. She is smart, she is savvy, and she is the next wave of Democratic politicians. Pretty much everything in Democratic politics is improved by the addition of Stacey Abrams. That’s why I really wanted to be excited by these rumors. Instead, I had a sinking feeling that reminded me uncomfortably of the day when John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate. It was only a day or two since Hillary had conceded the 2008 nomination to Obama and Palin smirked her way to the podium and told the crowd that the “women of American aren’t done yet!” I stared at the tv and thought “Is John McCain trying to insult my intelligence?”
Yes, as it turns out. He was.
Now, Stacey Abrams is no Sarah Palin. She’s a serious person with serious abilities. That’s why it feels doubly insulting that Biden would trot her out and say “Meet Stacey! She’s a woman! A Black woman! Vote for us!” And if you don’t believe me when I say the optics on this idea are actually that bad, believe Black women who have things like this to say:
Area white man hitches wagon to another Black rising star https://t.co/vVaj4Prb32
— Imani Gandy (@AngryBlackLady) March 21, 2019
It’s kind of amazing how awesome a Biden/Abrams ticket would be without Biden on it.
— Kashana (@kashanacauley) March 21, 2019
It's disgusting that Joe Biden or anyone attached to him would even consider using Stacey Abrams as a pawn to help him secure the Black vote for him. That is despicable. It's the worst kind of pandering & it feels like a "one Black friend" moment. Something about it feels wrong.
— Lynn V (@lynnv378) March 21, 2019
What Biden knows in all of this is that no Democratic candidate can win without Black women. They are the base of the electorate. They showed up for Hillary, they showed up for Barack. But if the only way Joe Biden can get them to show up for him is by offering them a side-order of Stacey Abrams, he needs to understand that he himself is not what Black women want. He’s not even really what white women want and white women make some very questionable choices in presidents. More than half of white women voted for Trump. Our standards apparently suck.
Joe Biden needs to be willing to sit down, listen carefully to his critics, and make the case for himself in a clear and uncluttered way. Using someone like Stacey Abrams as a shield to deflect questions about his many shortcomings is a chicken move and he should be better than this. He does have things to offer but he apparently doesn’t know how to do it.
That’s not what wins elections and it’s why Joe Biden has never won a presidential primary and I don’t think he’ll win this one either.
by Kevin Kelton
The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.
–Sen. Mitch McConnell, 2010
Every opposition political party has a duty to try to oppose and, when justified, defeat the party in power, and that starts with its highest leaders. Just as the Republicans worked their tails off to unseat Barack Obama in 2012, Democrats have an obligation to their voters to do everything in their constitutional power to unseat Donald Trump.
The question is, How?
For one, Democrats should not be afraid of impeachment and so cowered by the right as to turn the mere mention of the word into a taboo. The “I word” is not a curse; it’s a constitutionally sound legal process that The Founding Fathers created for just this reason. The House is fully in its constitutionally mandated oversight rights to investigate potential high crimes and send articles of impeachment to the Senate if justified. Yet with a “jury” comprised of 53 Republican senators, it’s doubtful (though not inconceivable) that body will achieve the requisite 2/3 vote to remove Trump from office.
But that does not mean an impeachment trial would be in vain. While the decision to vote for or against an impeachment conviction is a political calculation made by each senator, the damning testimony and evidence that would likely be unearthed in an impeachment proceeding would greatly inform the 2020 election.
The 2018 midterms showed that most Americans have lost patience with the lack of character and moral compass of this president. The revelations that could come out during an impeachment trial would greatly add to that impatience. Like the Titanic taking on water, Trump’s presidency cannot float forever. With each dirty revelation that surely would come out, each compartment of Trump’s illicit ship of state will begin to flood, and the entire administration will quickly submerge.
From Paul Manafort to Michael Flynn to Michael Cohen to Roger Stone – and maybe even Jared Kushner and Don Jr. – the wrong-doings that would come out during testimony in a public impeachment trial will send the Trump dominos falling. The president himself would probably survive thanks to his GOP firewall in the senate, but his presidency would be mortally wounded and on life support just as it heads into the 2020 primary season.
The idea that Trump might emerge from an impeachment acquittal victorious and vindicated is nonsense. He is not as likable as Bill Clinton, and his high crimes will prove much more than a sordid sexual affair. And it cannot be overlooked that even with a bump in Clinton’s approval ratings after his acquittal, that still didn’t stop his vice president, Al Gore, from losing the presidency in 2000.
One could even anticipate a GOP primary challenge to Trump on moral grounds. His poll numbers might get so bad that Trump would be compelled to forgo a re-election run, handing the nomination to Mike Pence in an effort to salvage some scraps of his presidential legacy. (A Hail Mary pass that didn’t work so well for Hubert Humphrey or Gerald Ford.)
But invariably, we will have to unseat Trump (or Pence) at the polls. While right now the pundit banter seems to flitter around who is the most progressive candidate or who is the new, younger face the party needs, I suspect that an impeachment process will change that equation. Voters often lurch from one extreme to the other – from Reagan-Bush old stodginess to Clinton young dynamism; from Clinton philandering to George W. Bush family values; from Bush II recklessness to Obama coolness.
If Trump is proved in a senate trial to be a dirty con artist who scammed his way into office and continues to profit illicitly from it, decency and honor may be the commodity 2020 voters crave.
Joe Biden is well-positioned to make that case. Just as George W. Bush was able to run on restoring honor and dignity to the Oval Office, Biden could run on honor, decency and competence. So might another Democratic candidate who can project a similar sense of honor and character in a way Hillary Clinton could not. A Trump-weary electorate might flock to that message and messenger.
The way to unseat Trump is to hammer his faults relentlessly and then offer a clear contrast. An impeachment trial in the senate, even one ending in acquittal, would magnify that contrast.
Trump’s policies may resonate with conservative voters, but his bankrupt character is what will ultimately defeat him.
Kevin Kelton is the founder of Open Fire Politics and cohost of The More Perfect Union podcast.
This episode of The More Perfect Union podcast covers the Stormy Daniels “60 Minutes” interivew, the March For Our Lives, John Bolton, Trump’s congratulatory call to Putin, China tariffs, and Joe Biden’s ominous prediction for 2020. It’s real debate without the hate…and with the laughs.