Friends, I recently wrote an op-ed for the Miami Herald about the first Democratic Debate which was hosted in Miami at the Adrienne Arsht Center. Let me preface this with three things. First, I will be voting for whoever is the democratic nominee. Second, my candidate of choice is Elizabeth Warren. And third, I think Joe Biden is a good person, was a great Vice President, and should not be our nominee in 2020.
Joe Biden was right: His time is up
For those of us who worked on the 2008 Obama campaign, the Democratic debate was a stark reminder of Biden’s lack of discipline on the campaign trail and his tone deafness when it comes to race. We dreaded this every time he went off script. In 2007, for example, Biden called Obama “clean” and “articulate”. These gaffes are nothing new (see: 1988). They are part of the Biden package.
Biden’s debate stumble started a week before with unscripted comments reminiscing about working with Sen. Eastland, a segregationist. During the debate, Harris said these comments were personally hurtful and that Biden’s actions to stop busing personally affected her.
I cannot imagine that the Biden campaign, with all of their talented senior staff, did not prepare for this line of questioning.
A more disciplined candidate would have first apologized for their comments, argued busing’s effectiveness was, at best, mixed and pivoted to agreeing with the underlying goals of busing which was to provide equal opportunity in our education system. This could have led to a forceful response and a winning debate moment.
Instead, Biden made a distinction that he only opposed federally mandated busing, saying that the policy should have been left to local control. In doing so, he echoed the premise used by segregationists to stall many advances of the civil rights movement. He came off as off-balance, combative and unsympathetic to Harris’ emotional appeal. It was also tone deaf.
The next day, he defended his performance by saying he never opposed busing, contrary to ample evidence, digging himself a deeper hole.
I have seen many people upset at Harris for weakening Biden. This is not her fault. This is a problem of Biden’s own creation, and sadly there are more problems to come.
Primaries are meant to battle-test our nominee, and I hope every candidate is tested. Democrats need someone who is disciplined, has a vision that will inspire our base, can appeal to working class voters across demographics, and is not easily vulnerable to attacks - a favorite Republican tactic to depress Democratic turnout.
Biden ended his response to Harris prematurely by saying “my time is up, sorry”, an accidental metaphor.
Democrats should thank the Vice President for his many years of dedicated service to the country and to the Party but his time is indeed up and it’s time to pass the torch.