by Russell Dobular
Melissa Henneberger, a regular contributor to the KC Star, and the political editor for the Huffington Post, recently published an article in USA Today that explains the unfathomable in a way that no other pundit has managed to do: who the fuck are these people keeping Joe Biden at the top of the polls month after month? Whether they’re progressive, centrist, Republican, what have you, I’ve never talked to a single person who actually wants to see Joe Biden become the Democratic Party’s nominee. At best, I’ve spoken to a few who have swallowed the “electability” narrative. But an enthusiastic Biden supporter is virtually impossible to find in the wild. We owe a debt then to Ms. Henneberger for voicing her full-throated support for Biden in a column that reflects not only her worldview, but, in all likelihood, the worldview of a lot of these mystery voters who think a man whose every public appearance is a nerve wracking, suspense filled exercise in waiting for him to say something horrible, is the best person to run against Donald Trump.
So, lets start with the headline:
“Joe Biden is my Harvard, not my ‘safety school.’ He really is my favorite 2020 Democrat.”
So, listen Mel (can I call you Mel? I feel like if I’m going to break this down we should get comfortable), I know that a Notre Dame graduate such as yourself who earned her degree in European Studies (of all things) in frikkin’ Belgium (of all places), is probably completely incapable of understanding the class implications of this headline, but as soon as you wrote it, you lost most of the voters who are going to decide the next election. Those would be the same voters who decided the last one: blue-collar workers in the Midwest who are living in third world conditions right here in the United States of America. They don’t have “safety schools,” and they generally don’t go to Harvard, or know anyone who has. Their choices aren’t so much between Harvard and Notre Dame, as they are between food and insulin. Really, if we consider your age (61) and correlate it with this headline, we could stop right here with a pretty good understanding of where a large portion of Biden’s support is coming from. But I have the morning free, so lets continue.
“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.”
Okay, so to be fair, apparently you didn’t start this whole “safety school,” thing. You wrote this article in response to your friend Walter’s article. I’m sure you and Walter had a delightful discussion about all this over drinks at some famous Washington watering hole favored by pundits and Senators, after your response went live. But, listen Mel, and this is just a suggestion; maybe if you want to really understand what’s happening in the country, you need to stop taking your cues from folks like Walter, and start spending a little more time with average people. ‘Cause this is starting to sound like a private conversation between two rich assholes that somehow spilled out into the public sphere.
“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.)”
Again, with the Harvard. Okay, I guess you’re kinda locked into this conceit now, but Jesus. And, Trump, bad. Got it. So, why exactly do you feel Biden would be the best person to undo the Trump era? Do you have any policy positions of Biden’s that you particularly favor, or any past accomplishments of Biden’s that you can point to as evidence of his exceptional gifts? I’ll wait.
“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?”
Well, since you’re asking, Biden polls around 28/29%. That means about two-thirds of Democratic voters don’t want him. The ones who do want him, tend, like yourself, to be over 60. So, it’s probably just that you don’t really speak to anyone outside your older, wealthy, white demographic, and that ends up giving you a warped impression of his level of support. Glad I could help.
“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.”
Sigh. Okay, Mel, breaking down this article is kind of like watching someone shooting arrows all around the target, hitting every spot but the bullseye. You keep on answering your own question. Most people are lucky if they get to take a vacation once in a year. They aren’t gallivanting all around the nation attending weddings and grabbing coffee. Honestly, it sounds nice. But maybe having that lifestyle and surrounding yourself with people who also enjoy that lifestyle has made you completely useless as a political journalist, if the measure of usefulness is to actually understand things.
“Don’t underestimate Biden: He knows what America needs and how to get it done.
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.”
We get it. You know at least one well-connected rich person in every state, and you’ve polled all of them. I know this is an opinion piece Mel, but even by op-ed standards this is pretty lazy writing. You again offer no explanation as to why Biden is the best choice for the current moment, and your sources are a childhood friend and a former colleague, who themselves have nothing meaningful to say about Biden. He makes one feel “blessedly comfortable,” and another admires his “authenticity and experience.” Might I ask if these friends of yours already have high quality health insurance coverage? If the answer is “no,” I promise to meet you for coffee in whatever East Coast city you happen to be gathering the opinions of upper-class professionals in at the time, and offer you a face to face apology for this entire misunderstanding.
“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, D-Pa. “He was a great senator and vice president, and I’m pretty sure it does not get much better than that!”
More state-name dropping, more professional class friends who also like Joe Biden, and more vacuous quotes. BTW, Morna, speaking of vacuous quotes, are we talking about the same “great Senator” who made it impossible to discharge student loans in bankruptcy, voted for the Iraq War, and whose crime bill was instrumental in incarcerating a generation of black men? Lemme guess; you have no outstanding student loans, no one close to you had to serve in that war, and you have no experience of the criminal justice system except through your work as an attorney (GW Law, Class of ’86). IM me if I’m right.
“Joe Biden isn’t the boringly reassuring candidate Democrats were hoping for.
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.”
No, Mel, you’re right. If nothing else you’ve convinced me that he’s the passionate first choice of elderly elites. Point taken.
“An empathizer with a giant heart.
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.”
Privilege is . . . having the luxury of prioritizing personal demeanor over actual policy. Here we are coming to the end of this article and your “big pitch” for Biden. You still haven’t mentioned one way that Joe Biden has made the country better in the course of his decades-long political career, or one policy he’s put forth that will make it better going forward. Your idea of a qualification seems to be, “He’s a nice guy.” I’m sure he is a nice guy one-on-one. He’s also made it harder for families to declare bankruptcy and made it easier to send people to jail for drug crimes. The performance of empathy and the practice of empathy are two different things, Mel. Where the latter is concerned, Biden has used his power in a way that’s downright sociopathic. Why would we want to give him more of it?
“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.”
Gaffes are when you mean to say, “I love it here in New Hampshire” and you say, “There’s a pink elephant in my boat.” In other words, if it’s a gaffe, it doesn’t actually reflect your worldview – its just a random slip of the tongue. Biden classics like this description of Barack Obama, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man,” and the more recent suggestion that black parents don’t know how to raise their children, “Social workers help parents deal with how to raise their children. It’s not like they don’t want to help, they don’t know what to do,” are not “gaffes.” They’re the views of an old, white dude whose idea of what it means to be “liberal” was formed in union halls circa 1975. If you’re comfortable electing someone with those views, you do you, but to suggest these are simple misstatements that don’t reflect Biden’s true feelings is a stretch.
“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.”
Well, what can I tell ya Mel: one person’s idyllic vision of a simpler, more innocent world, is another person’s crushing lifetime student loan debt, Iraq War induced PTSD, and/or draconian prison sentence. Like Joe Biden, I’m sure you’re a very nice person one-on- one. If we ever do have that coffee, I bet you’ll pick up the tab. But, also like Joe Biden, I don’t think you really give a meaningful, flying fuck about the real problems that real people are facing. I think you like to think you care. But you don’t want to do the work that caring would involve. Like, for example, spending five minutes considering Joe Biden’s record before writing something like this. Or spending an additional five minutes considering the impact those policies have had on people outside the coffee in Boston/wedding in New York set. I mean, you’ve been a professional journalist since the late 80’s Mel. You certainly have the training and resources to figure all this stuff out if you really wanted to. The fact that you haven’t suggests that you don’t. So, listen, the next time you see Walter, tell him I said, “Proletarier aller Länder vereinigt Euch!” It’ll probably scare the shit out him, especially coming from you, but I’m sure its nothing a few cocktails at Bullfeathers won’t resolve. Oh, and also, please for the love of God, and for the sake of the nation, stop cranking out this dreck. I promise you, as I sit here at the writing desk that I rescued from the trash some ten years ago, and which now resides in the bedroom of my fifth floor Harlem walk-up, it ain’t helping the situation. Not even a little bit.
The Unwashed Masses
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