When campaign gets beyond personalities, issues might trip up Biden

Surely at some point, someone in Biden’s campaign will note the contrast of the Democrat holed up in his basement while Trump is out on the campaign trail.

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Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the fourth day of the Democratic National Convention on Thursday at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware.

Andrew Harnik/AP

How to energize a political convention with excitement in the time of plague emerged as the big August challenge for Democrats and Republicans, and the results reflect the personalities of the two presidential candidates.

Guess which one has more sizzle?

About the only excitement for the Democrats centered over whether nominee Joe Biden could read a TelePrompTer speech without confirming the fears of liberals — and GOP hopes — that his performance would reveal him to be an addled 77-year-old codger. Democrats across the land breathed a huge sigh of relief when he scaled that low bar. 

Party leaders convened a drive-in-movie-like crowd of supporters in their autos at the parking lot outside the Delaware speech location in a show of enthusiasm for their candidate. Yet strangely, Biden delivered his speech inside instead of out before this group who could have enlivened his show with applause and cheers. Maybe Biden’s handlers were among the fearful and didn’t want to chance a gasp-causing gaffe in front of a live audience.

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Trump is having none of that. He craves the attention and feedback of an audience and never worries about what he will say, though no doubt plenty in his staff do. Announcing right from the start that he planned to speak daily to his convention, on the first day he flew to Charlotte, North Carolina, for a nearly hour-long address to a couple of hundred delegates assembled there to nominate him, and they rewarded him with chants of “four more years.” Then, Trump flew to a rural Tar Heel town to laud farmers before another group of actual human beings ready to hail their favorite. 

Biden, meanwhile, appears happy and confident in isolation with the excuse of the COVID-19 virus, due in no small part to polls showing him in the lead. Asked in a rare interview if he thinks he can capture the White House by campaigning from home, Biden replied, “We will.”

Surely at some point, someone in his campaign will note the contrast of the Democrat holed up in his basement while Trump is out daily and actively on the campaign trail, cheering supporters if not able to actually do a lot of glad handing. The picture that emerges here is obvious: One candidate is enthusiastic and eager, daily engrossed in retail campaigning with the energy of a younger man, while that other old fellow stares into a TV camera somewhere in Delaware.

Biden and Trump are both in their 70s, but it would be a mistake to describe them as being of the same generation. Biden, born in 1942, is of the Silent Generation, as you might expect given his current campaign strategy. 

Trump is just under four years younger, but he is a baby boomer. And he is emblematic of that generation in many ways — vigorous, dynamic, inventive, self-confident, self-centered and self-congratulatory, conventions be damned, I’m doing it my way. And yes, he is crude and rude, but as friends such as former pro football great Herschel Walker, who’s known the president nearly four decades, testified in his convention speech, Trump is also gracious, generous and a good friend.

While Biden may be plenty likable, as many politicians on both sides of the aisle attest, the age issue won’t go away for him, at least not until he successfully confronts Trump in a debate. Now the problem for Republicans — and Trump especially since he likes to mock Biden’s mental capabilities — is that they set the bar so low that even a mediocre performance with only minor gaffes will enable Democrats to declare their man the winner. Still, Democrats will be holding their breathe during any verbal slugfest. 

At some point, and the debates are likely that, issues will emerge — and significantly enough to eclipse the personality circus. That Democrats in their convention focused more on the contrasting personalities than issues tells you that the latter may pose a minefield for Biden and his hopes for victory.

Another indicator is that close to a fourth of the Democrat delegates, more than 1,000, voted against the party’s platform because it was written to placate the far left supporters of failed Socialist candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

This should have been, but wasn’t, a huge red flag to those Republicans supporting Biden such as former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake and former Ohio Gov. John Kasich who describe the Democrat as a moderate.

But Democrats who know Biden best say otherwise. Sanders said his one-time primary rival would be “the most progressive president” since New Deal President Franklin D. Roosevelt if Biden, as president, implements the Democrat platform and its war on fossil fuels, greater government control of health care and tax increases. Added former President Barack Obama in an interview with the New Yorker, “If you look at Joe Biden’s goals and Bernie Sanders’ goals, they’re not that different, from a forty-thousand-foot level.”

Obama and ultra leftist Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts offer further proof of the threat of a successful socialist agenda under Biden by declaring a Democrat-controlled Senate, considered a real possibility given polls now, should eliminate the filibuster. This tactic, requiring 60 votes for successful legislation, traditionally forces compromise in the Senate. 

That prominent Democrats want to deep six the filibuster should be a clear warning that — no matter the pleasing personality of Biden — moderation and compromise play no part in the Democrat agenda for 2021 and after.

Steve Huntley is a former editorial page editor and columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.



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