Commentary: Joe Biden, the US president for his time
Joe Biden’s win in this US election has been surprising for he does not have the ability to inspire but he may be the man who can move the needle for the US, says the Financial Times’ Peter Spiegel.
LONDON: It was not the soaring rhetoric of Barack Obama or the provocative stream-of-consciousness of Donald Trump.
Indeed, when Joe Biden took the stage in Wilmington for his victory speech on Saturday night, his first instinct was to identify the little-known Delaware dignitaries standing in the parking lot before him.
Some of the best lines of his 15-minute address — like pledging to not see red states or blue states, but only the United States — had been borrowed from Mr Obama.
THE MAN FITS THE MOMENT
But if Mr Biden’s political communications skills are prosaic, his policy ambitions are not.
The goals he set himself in his first public appearance since securing victory in Tuesday’s election included containing a pandemic, eradicating systemic racism and healing a nation at war with itself.
“For all those who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight,” he said in his only mention of the incumbent by name. “I lost a couple times myself. Now, let's give each other a chance.”
If his Democratic predecessors are prologue, Mr Biden may not be given that chance.
The last two were ripped apart by the bitter partisanship of Washington, and he shares neither the fill-the-room charisma of Bill Clinton nor the intellectual brilliance of Mr Obama.
But there are times when the man fits the moment. America appears ready for a quiet man, not unlike their surprising embrace of Missouri haberdasher Harry Truman after the tumult of Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency, or re-electing Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge after war under Woodrow Wilson and scandal with Warren Harding.
THE QUIET PRESIDENT GETS THE JOB DONE
Sometimes it is the quiet, institutional presidents who actually get the most done. Does anyone remember Lyndon Johnson’s first inaugural address?
But like Mr Biden, Johnson came to the White House after a life mastering the Senate. Johnson went on to record one of the most historic legislative records of any president of the modern era.
Unlike Mr Obama, who frequently showed distaste for the grubbiness of retail politics, or Mr Trump, who showed open contempt for anyone who dared challenge him, Mr Biden has always been known in Washington as a man who loves the backslapping and horse-trading that comes with work on Capitol Hill.
And the talent he may well have, one that few before him have been able to demonstrate, is an ability to win over rivals on both sides of the partisan divide by deploying a certain old-fashioned hokeyness and making it sound genuine and decent.
BRINGING BACK FAITH AMERICA CAN BE DECENT AGAIN
Perhaps it is his age and grandfatherly aspect, or perhaps it is the knowledge that he has lost more than just political contests — a daughter and wife in a car crash, a son to brain cancer.
But Mr Biden on Saturday again displayed the ability to tell stories that would evoke eye-rolling if offered by other politicians, and give them weight and meaning.
“Remember, as my grandpop said when I walked out of our home when I was a kid up in Scranton, he said, ‘Joey, keep the faith’,” the president-elect said as he wound up his speech. “Our grandmother, when she was alive, said, ‘No, spread it. Spread the faith’.”
He may not be able to cure a pandemic, or end racism, or end partisan rage. But if Joe Biden can make progress on any of the three, and bring back a little faith that America can be decent again, maybe that is enough.