Ideas and Impressions: Joe Biden was a man of the past in first debate

By Jason Moscovitz

It was pathetic to see Joe Biden do so poorly in the first Democratic Party debate leading up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election. He looked old and out of touch. He looked unsure of himself, and by the end of the debate, he looked like he wished he was still a retired statesman.

There were many telltale moments. When the moderators asked the candidates to answer questions with a show of hands, Biden hesitated each time as he nervously peered around to see how others were voting.

If a photo is worth a thousand words, then video is worth 10,000. True leaders don’t lead by looking around to see how their opponents are answering questions. They have the strength and confidence to answer questions with thoughtful conviction.

One of those show-of-hands questions in particular raises doubts about the Biden candidacy. The question was straight up. There were no tricks. Candidates were asked if they wanted a publicly funded health care system that would eliminate private insurance companies. After almost three decades in the U.S. Senate, and eight years as vice-president, you’d think Biden would have had an instinctive answer to that fundamental policy question.

The fact he didn’t indicates a lack of conviction, a lack of preparedness, or a lack of confidence. Pick one. There is no answer that makes Biden look like anything other than a bumbling candidate who doesn’t have what it takes to be president.

But the lights really went out on Biden when Senator Kamala Harris left him bloodied over his opposition to bussing, a key civil rights issue in the 1970s. You had to wonder how his campaign team left him so unprepared to deal with a glaring blotch from his past.

Biden opposed underprivileged children of colour being bussed to better schools in white neighbourhoods. In today’s Democratic Party, there is no way to justify that position. Biden’s mistake was in not admitting he was wrong back then. He should have been advised to do so.

Biden, like most old-time politicians, has a problem admitting a mistake – any mistake – under any circumstances. It is part of an old belief that once a leader admits a mistake, he or she will be forever vulnerable. The new generation of politicians knows better.

There is another old-time tendency in politics for the establishment of a political party to support a leadership candidate who appears to be the most middle-of-the-road, the least likely to ruffle feathers, and the most likely to win. Of course, that playbook was thrown out the window in 2016 when the Republicans held their noses and chose Donald Trump. The Democrats remember only too well what going with “safe” Hillary Clinton cost them.

The present nomination process in the Democratic Party might change the party and the changes could be, comparatively speaking, a clear departure from the past. Biden represents the past. Other serious candidates represent the future – and the future, by definition, represents change and a different way of looking at how the world works, and how the United States fits in the world.

This inevitably leads to the question of the Democratic Party’s support of Israel. Traditionally strong and steadfast, through good times and bad, there is mounting evidence the Democratic Party could head in another direction under new leadership.

Part of the mounting evidence comes from the young voices of newly elected Democrats in Congress who are challenging long-standing traditional American support for the State of Israel. Their view is that unequivocal support of Israel is wrong and they don’t like the many diplomatic nuances that keep support levels so entrenched.

The congressional leadership in the Democratic Party faced many recent challenges in keeping all of the support-for-Israel “genies” in a bottle, and from all appearances it looked as if the nomination of Biden as the presidential hopeful would seal further leakage.

With Biden off to such a horrible start, support for Israel in the Democratic Party is shakier. Without Biden the party can conceivably go anywhere on Israel.

The anywhere is the troubling part. In a world where Israel has so few friends, any weakening of support from the other major political party in the United States is problematic.

Under those circumstances, it could even make Donald Trump look good.