OVER THE PAST FIVE YEARS, the Democratic Party has seemed to race leftward so fast that its recent standard-bearers are considered no longer qualified to lead it. Bill Clinton? An embarrassment not welcome on the campaign trail. Barack Obama? A neoliberal whose half-measures should not be repeated. Nor does the new crowd of Democrats qualify by the stringent standards of ideological purity: Cory Booker has ties to Wall Street; Kamala Harris was a prosecutor; Beto O’Rourke once mused about cutting Social Security.
But nobody is thought of as more retrograde than Joe Biden— “a deeply flawed candidate who’s out of step with the mood of his party,” Politico wrote last year. Biden’s heresies are comprehensive: on foreign policy (supporting the Iraq War), social policy (his dismissive treatment of Anita Hill, harsh criminal-justice stances, opposition to school busing), and economic policy (support for the Reagan tax cut, balanced-budget fetishism). And Biden, being Biden, has articulated these positions with cringey sound bites that make the situation even worse.
The prevailing mood toward a Biden candidacy has been a combination of anger that he has the temerity to lead a party that has left him behind and sympathy that he’s too addled to grasp his predicament. A genre of the op-ed has developed out of liberals pleading with Biden, with such headlines as “Why Joe Biden Shouldn’t Run for President” (The Wee