by Gayle Leslie 6.29.2019
First, I love Joe Biden. Nothing will change that. And he is an honorable man, no racist at all. His limitations are not based in race or gender, they are based in social conventions of the past. I guarantee that when he was dealing with James Eastland and Herman Talmadge, and even Strom Thurmond, he was condescended to because those guys condescended to everybody. The difference between being called “son” and being called “boy” was that the son gets taken to the wood shed and it ain’t pretty, the boy gets put at the bottom of the Mississippi, and well… Trust me, as a daughter of the south, that kind of psychopath will do what it takes to maintain control over anybody.
Having said that, litigating choices of the past, in very different times, with people who were never going to be swayed by reason — it was all pure politics — is not a place we want to dwell for long. He did what he felt he had to do to get some measure of progress at the time. That time, however, has passed.
What was the last straw for me after a long few weeks of unforced errors, where a more humble, deferential tone — even a minimal show of contrition would have made all the difference — was not Joe Biden’s legislative history on civil rights, it was that he didn’t come prepared with a better response to what he had to know was coming. All these exceptionally skilled professionals assisting him in debate prep and not one of them said, “Here’s what you say when this comes up, Mr. Vice President: ‘I’m sorry that I was insufficient and I am sorry that I hurt you. I did what I felt I had to at the time to get some concessions because I knew we would never get all that you deserved.’” This would not have diminished him at all, it would have made him appear strong enough to be kind and compassionate when he knew that he’d not done a perfect job, he’d done what he felt he could. He could have simply followed Pete Buttigieg’s lead.
More than merely appearing unprepared, though, his unwillingness to engage Senator Harris, instead defaulting into a defense of his pretty obviously outdated positions, felt “Trumpian.” An old man not open to seeing someone else’s pain and responding from a deeper place, needing to be present, not needing to be “right”: it was a fear response and this is what scares me, because Donald Trump is nothing if not a perpetually profoundly terrified old man. He’s lashing out, projecting the terror at his core into the lives of every human being that he can because he imagines that as long as he can affect other people’s lives he won’t have time to die. And my “wakes me up at 3:00 in the morning” night terror is the idea of these two old men roaming around on a stage in front of the world bloviating about how they would rule a fantasy world that existed forty years ago where privileged white men organized the lives of women, people of color, people who lived outside the margins of polite society, without ever inviting those people into the room for the negotiations. Joe Biden is the “benevolent despot,” and well, we all know what Donald Trump is. That’s my nightmare.
My fear is that these two old men could wander around just talking to themselves, never landing a transformative blow on the other so that viewers think they just might as well not show up cause it doesn’t matter who wins. That is my terror: Joe Biden cannot take Donald Trump out in a methodical, calculated match.
Kamala Harris can leave him bloodied in a heap cryin’ for his mommy. And here’s how I think we are going to get there.
A few other things, first: I love Elizabeth Warren. I want her on the field, in play. I want her in the government. I want her to run Treasury. I will personally mop her floors and do her laundry if it helps her stay in this. But she is not the best one to take Trump down.
I’ve had occasion to get to know Jay Inslee a bit and I don’t think he comes close to breaking out in this field because the most pressing issue is putting Trump down, but he is right: the greatest existential threat to us all is climate change. Top among several potentially civilization ending threats that this manic moron-n-chief distracts people of real conscience from dealing with while we watch him act out.
Inslee knows more about climate science and how to implement renewable energy policy than anyone. The science and technology exists and the capability to use it for massive environmental policy reform — while employing Americans in solid well paying jobs in mass — exists now. The reason you don’t know that is that the fossil fuel lobby is fighting like mad to get as much drilling underway as conceivable while this empty, pliable vessel is in office. Oil companies are just bullies and they know that when people find out we don’t need them anymore, they are over. Jay Inslee is the guy, and he should be running the Department of Energy.
I’m a native Texan straight out of Trump country so I have skin in this game: Julian Castro is lightning in a bottle. He’s been long underestimated, and he needs to send Beto O’Rourke back to Texas to take John Cornyn down. It annoys me that Beto felt it necessary to run for President at a time when taking down the number two Republican in the Senate would be a better use of his time. I don’t see Julian Castro prevailing in this field unless something extreme and unexpected happens: a shake-up of magnitude could put him on a ticket with Elizabeth Warren. Otherwise, he could supplant pretty much any of Trump’s cabinet of corrupt nitwits and start cleaning up the mess they’ve made, but I really want to see Julian on the world stage.
Pete Buttigieg really needs to stay “Mayor Pete” for a while because he has to come to the other side of the mess in South Bend. Big picture — much as I love this guy and am so grateful that his youth and decency is front and center in contrast to Trump — appearing to have walked away from his city at the worst possible moment will not serve him in the long haul. And I don’t think he’ll do it, he may even step away from the campaign far sooner than anyone anticipates.
And please, dear god, send Bernie home: he actually stood there on the debate stage without answering a direct question or actually engaging anyone. He just blusters. Others are articulating similar policy positions better and there’s no way he goes face to face with Trump without bad things happening. Moderate Democrats would all just throw up their hands and stay home to drink and wait to die.
And this is how we get to there. Kamala Harris embodies critical aspects that, in this world, terrify Donald Trump the most: she’s black, she’s beautiful and she’s utterly out of his league. Don’t underestimate how disarming it is for a man as insecure as this loser to be confronted with a black woman — a demographic that has had his number from the start and never cut him slack because black women writ large have spines of steel — who would never have given him the time of day in any universe. “Tiny Hands” will completely lose his shit.
He will never experience that existential terror and confusion with Elizabeth Warren: NEVER. So it can be weaponized. He knows that and he is defenseless against it, and if confronted with it, he is going to come up with defense mechanisms that will be the rope with which Donald Trump hangs himself. What we need to fear and prepare for is what he does to the world when what remains of his mind is imploding, because at this point he really is running on basest, primal instincts.
There will be many more debates and by fall people will be dropping away. Good people who just couldn’t get traction as fundraising moves towards the frontrunners. They will be decent about it and throw their support behind those frontrunners and those who don’t will not make many friends. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Julian Castro, Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg will — barring showing to a debate with a bad flu — only get better.
I don’t think Joe Biden does get significantly better. I think he is too stuck, up to his knees in the quicksand that is his past to show the presence and the agility to do the right thing, make the right adjustment in the moment. When he hears Harris challenge him it is not an opportunity to move forward with humility, he hears an attack on his very being and he comes from a generation hardwired to defend themselves. And whether he understands it about himself or not, the old white guy does not want to give any ground to the black woman who’s telling him he did something wrong. Especially since he’d always thought he was doing her a favor. And that is the problem: he thinks he was not so much a champion of her civil rights as he was a benevolent benefactor. That is an innately condescending position to take and it is programmed into the genetics of very decent men of that generation. He’s that way with women writ large, I don’t think it’s racist, I think it’s just old and played out.
I don’t hold that against Joe, but I also don’t think that being confronted by a powerful, uber smart, fully realized black woman on the political field of battle should hurt his feelings so badly if he wants to stay in play. And he definitely should not come unprepared because he thinks his benevolence in the past has given him a pass on dealing with a grown woman as an equal. Some of the elements of her case were debatable but her experience of her experience was not. Joe Biden missed a huge opportunity, and it is only one of the huge opportunities he keeps blowing through because he thinks he deserves a pass, and we do not live in that world anymore.
Harris will seize every single challenge as a chance to hone her knives for Donald Trump, and Trump knows it. Biden will struggle. I believe that he stays in through the fall, up to the primaries, barring some unforeseen external. (And we should all never underestimate the effect and consequence of things not yet seen.)
If my premise holds, Kamala Harris rises to the top in the primaries, and when it becomes clear that she is the middle ground between the middle and the left Joe Biden will step aside. It may take the intervention of the one person we all know who can lean in and say “Buddy, you need to do the right thing,” but I believe he will. And then he will take a minute before he comes out with a full-throated support for the presidency of Kamala Harris and he will throw his whole campaign apparatus behind her.
Barack Obama will wait in the wings so there is a very public demonstration of mended fences and party solidarity, then he will step up with all he got, as will all the other Democratic candidates, because the singular mantra is “Beat Trump.”
That is why it is so important that no matter how harsh the moment may appear, the attacks can never get personal.
Leave the “showing my fat ass” portion of the program to the village idiot.
And finally, I do not think Donald Trump survives mano y mano having the case against him prosecuted by Kamala Harris — for one night, let alone three — without losing his grip and saying what he is really thinking to a black woman. And we all know what he is thinking, he can’t help it. It will be exponentially worse for Trump than sitting across from Robert Mueller ever might have been, and — short of death — there’s no way out that doesn’t reveal him for the coward he is, even to his base.
I’ve heard the argument that his base won’t care, but they don’t matter anyway. Nothing affects or changes them. What will matter to most people who have even a thread of decency left is that that is not and never will be what they want to be aligned with, not anytime, not anywhere. And once he’s said it in front of God and everybody, you are either okay with it, or you’re not. Pure and simple.
And if that is still insufficient to end this surreal horror show then we may as well all just start drinking heavily and waiting to die.
About the Author:
Gayle Leslie is a writer, political consultant, published author, actor, and policy wonk publishing extensively on Medium. She is a native Texan, graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and Circle in the Square Theatre School in NYC. She wrote her serialized memoir, Dwelling in the Vast Divine Vol. 1 & Vol 2. You can follow on Twitter at @gayleleslie7