By Michael Goodwin
Asked recently why he was running for president, Joe Biden insisted to a reporter that burning ambition was not the reason.
“Could I die happily not having heard ‘Hail to the Chief’ play for me?” Biden asked, then answered his own question by saying, “Yeah, I could.”
That’s good to know because it will make the next step easier. It’s the step where Biden announces he’s withdrawing from the race.
Yes, yes, I’m aware that he’s the front-runner for the Democrats’ nomination and that front-runners never exit voluntarily. But I’m also aware that Biden knows something else, too: that growing concerns about his mental and physical capacity are legitimate.
He also must know that he and his team are not fooling anyone with claims that all is well. His rivals, initially reticent to go there, are now willing to raise the fitness issue.
Sometimes they don’t have to raise it because the whole world can see that Biden is slipping. As such, his age, 76, and history of serious medical issues are fair game.
Consider the last half of Biden’s incoherent answer to a question about racial inequality: “The teachers are — I’m married to a teacher, my deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. Make sure that every single child does, does in fact, have 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds go to school. Not day care, school. We bring social workers into some and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help, they don’t know what — they don’t know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player — on at night, make sure that kids hear words, a kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time we get there.”
Then there’s the social media storm about the moment his upper teeth apparently dropped as he began to speak, and he used his tongue to push them up.
The human reaction is to pity Biden as he gamely struggles against the inevitable march of time. But while there are many reasons why voters might support a candidate, pity is not one of them.
Democrat Julian Castro broke the fitness taboo in the Houston debate, and the immediate media reaction was that Castro’s jab that Biden had a memory problem was cruel. Although there were disputes about whether Castro was right on the specific issue, nobody argued that he wasn’t onto something, as Sen. Cory Booker noted.
“I think we are at a tough point right now because there’s a lot of people concerned about Joe Biden’s ability to carry the ball all the way across the end line without fumbling,” Booker said on TV. “There are definitely moments when you listen to Joe Biden and you just wonder.”
Booker didn’t say what there was to “wonder” about because he didn’t have to. Everybody knows.
Which is why I believe Biden ought to walk off the stage before he gets pushed off. One way or another, it’s only a matter of time.
A worst-case scenario is that he keeps it together into the early primaries, then comes undone in a string of gaffe-athons that can’t be excused. Imagine that Biden is forced to withdraw just before or after Super Tuesday, which is March 3 next year, when 14 states hold their primaries.
There would not be time for new candidates to jump into the race. And that would mean the relatively moderate lane that Biden dominates would effectively be empty, making it almost certain that a far lefty, either Sen. Elizabeth Warren or Sen. Bernie Sanders, would get the nomination.
The odds in favor of four more years for President Trump likely would skyrocket.
On the other hand, if Biden does the right thing soon, there would be time for others of a similar political persuasion to run. Two New Yorkers come to mind: former mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Both suggested Biden’s candidacy figured into their decisions not to run because they would be courting many of the same voters. Bloomberg, who tested the waters earlier, has a campaign team waiting on the sidelines and would spend whatever it takes to make a serious challenge.
Others might also see an opening and new entrants could enliven the race. Current candidates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar might get a second look.
None of this is meant as an endorsement of any candidate. Rather, it reflects the fact that America is best served when both parties appeal to centrist voters. Although radical progressives have pushed Dems to the left, including Biden, he is the only one with even a hint of moderation who enjoys significant backing.
So the former vice president and long-time senator would be performing a final act of public service for his party and country by stepping aside.
Indeed, the rationale for a timely withdrawal could be the basis of a Biden goodbye speech. He could emphasize a point he tries to make in the debates, that the Warren-Sanders plans on health insurance, the environment and corporations would be stupendously expensive and broadly disruptive, and thus doom the party in the general election.
Though I wouldn’t expect Biden to say so, it is also true that if either of those two should somehow win the presidency, America’s economy would be shattered and tens of millions thrown out of work.
“We all want it all,” Biden might say. “But the art of governing is knowing that you can’t have it all. Successful leaders separate what is necessary from what is aspirational.”
With that, he could go out a winner in America’s hearts. A lively rendition of “Hail to the Chief” would be a fitting final salute.
Diss was undeserved
President Trump and John Bolton always were a political odd couple, so it’s no surprise that Bolton is now the former national security adviser.
But it is a surprise, and a disappointment, that the president publicly criticized Bolton after he departed. Notably, the barbs didn’t refer to wrongdoing, only policy disagreements.
People who work for Trump suffer enormous abuse from Democrats and the biased media. If they serve honorably, they deserve to be treated with respect by the president on their way out the door.
Reader Jim Sheridan isn’t upset that Mayor Bill de Blasio spent only seven hours in May at City Hall. He writes: “Given the quality of his leadership, his absence isn’t a problem as much as it is a solution! Imagine how much worse off we would be if he was actually doing his job.”
From the AP comes a happy reminder that life goes on: “A Mississippi couple welcomed a 9-pound, 11-ounce baby into the world on 9/11, at 9:11 p.m.”