Joe Biden and ‘the Nightstick of Wokeness’

Elections
Joe Biden speaks at Harvard University in May. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)

Peggy Noonan urges Joe Biden not to run for president, concluding that “young reporters who consider themselves culture cops, and who enjoy beating people like you with the nightstick of their wokeness” and “your defeat will be worse than sudden, it will be poignant.”

The conventional wisdom is that Biden offers Democrats their best shot at beating President Trump; head-to-head polling of the matchup usually puts Biden ahead by a considerable margin. After eight years as vice president and decades in the U.S. Senate, Biden has near-universal name recognition and is a well-established identity in the public’s mind: President Obama’s former right-hand-man with a personal style that is gaffe-prone and sometimes goofy but often oddly charming. Many Democrats think that Biden would be most competitive in those upper Midwest/Rust Belt states, such as Michigan, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and reportedly President Trump and his team worry about Biden’s appeal in that region as well.

Democrats would choke on the irony if the candidate best-positioned to help their party win back lost territory in 2020 was torn to shreds by his primary rivals and progressive media. The traits of Biden that most irk progressive activists are also the ones that make Biden appealing to those blue-collar demographics — his age and familiarity, his status as part of the party’s “Establishment,”  his not-so-liberal stances in past decades, his unpredictable mouth and habitual political incorrectness; in short, his un-“wokeness.” What the progressive activists of Brooklyn and Berkeley desire in a candidate and what a candidate needs to win in the upper Midwest don’t align much. Perhaps that explains the current excitement surrounding Pete Buttigieg, and the hope that a clean-cut mayor from the Midwest who served in Afghanistan could sell a progressive agenda in a nonthreatening way to not-so-progressive voters. (It’s worth remembering that South Bend is a heavily Democratic city, meaning Buttigieg never really needed to win over too many Republican votes.)

For Republicans, almost any scenario with Biden is a positive one, short of him winning the presidency in 2020. If he chooses not to run or is defeated in the primary, it demonstrates just how much the Democratic party has veered to the left in just four years, where a man who most Democrats voted for twice is now insufficiently liberal to satisfy the grassroots. If Biden runs and wins the nomination, it represents a defeat for “wokeness,” and Biden will have to deal with a discontented progressive grassroots. Some would argue that President Trump provides all the grassroots motivation that the Democratic nominee will ever need . . .  but then again, wasn’t that Hillary Clinton’s calculation?

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