Jacquelyn Martin/AP

Biden to Clinton and the Rest of DC: Stop the Madness

The vice president says four more years of status quo “may be more than this country can take.”

“I be­lieve we’re out of time,” Joe Biden said Wed­nes­day of his op­por­tun­ity to seek the Demo­crat­ic pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion. Then the vice pres­id­ent warned Wash­ing­ton’s polit­ic­al class that its time was run­ning out.

Stop fight­ing, he said. Stop the mad­ness.

“I be­lieve that we have to end the di­vis­ive par­tis­an polit­ics that is rip­ping this coun­try apart. And I think we can. It’s mean-spir­ited, it’s petty, and it’s gone on for much too long,” Biden said in the Rose Garden along­side his wife, Jill, and Pres­id­ent Obama. “Four more years of this kind of pitched battle may be more than this coun­try can take.”

The bulk of his speech was an af­firm­a­tion of Obama’s pres­id­ency and the in­creas­ingly lib­er­al Demo­crat­ic agenda: Re­duce the in­come gap, in­crease so­cial mo­bil­ity, elim­in­ate large and secret cam­paign dona­tions, ex­tend pub­lic edu­ca­tion to 16 years, tax the wealthy, avoid open-ended mil­it­ary in­va­sions, and launch a “moon shot” to cure can­cer.

Brain can­cer claimed the life of Biden’s be­loved son Beau. “If I could be any­thing,” the vice pres­id­ent said, “I would have wanted to have been the pres­id­ent that ended can­cer.”

He won’t be that guy. After 10 months of griev­ing and sev­er­al weeks of re­view­ing his polit­ic­al win­dow of op­por­tun­ity, Biden said, “I’ve con­cluded it has closed.”

He said he doesn’t have time to mount an ef­fect­ive cam­paign. The fact is Biden stood little chance of erod­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton’s dom­in­a­tion of the Demo­crat­ic Party’s es­tab­lish­ment wing. His entry likely would have di­vided that vote, aid­ing the pop­u­list can­did­acy of Sen. Bernie Sanders of Ver­mont.

Polls sug­gest Demo­crat­ic voters are happy with their cur­rent choices. They’re eager to look past Clin­ton’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate use of a private email serv­er as sec­ret­ary of State, the po­ten­tial ex­pos­ure of U.S. secrets, and her less-than-hon­est ex­plan­a­tions. The FBI is in­vest­ig­at­ing the activ­ity.

Biden pro­jec­ted con­fid­ence in his stand­ing among Demo­crats. “While I will not be a can­did­ate,” he said, “I will not be si­lent.”

Prov­ing his point, he made a thinly veiled jab at Clin­ton.

I don’t be­lieve, like some do, that it’s na­ive to talk to Re­pub­lic­ans. I don’t think we should look at Re­pub­lic­ans as our en­emies. They are our op­pos­i­tion. They’re not our en­emies. And for the sake of the coun­try, we have to work to­geth­er.

In the first Demo­crat­ic de­bate, can­did­ates were asked to name their “proudest en­emies.” Treat­ing the ex­change as a mo­ment of lev­ity, Clin­ton re­spon­ded, “Well, in ad­di­tion to the NRA [Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation], the health in­sur­ance com­pan­ies, the drug com­pan­ies, the Ir­a­ni­ans,” she chuckled, “prob­ably the Re­pub­lic­ans.”

Clin­ton is a di­vis­ive pub­lic fig­ure in di­vis­ive times, for two dec­ades the vic­tim of GOP at­tacks—some of them fair, oth­ers out­rageous. While par­tis­an voters love polit­ic­al com­bat—en­cour­age it, ac­tu­ally—a grow­ing num­ber of voters are wary. They’re identi­fy­ing them­selves as in­de­pend­ents, even if they tend to routinely sup­port one party over an­oth­er. They’re dis­con­nect­ing from the polit­ic­al pro­cess or hanging out at the fringes with the likes of Sanders, Don­ald Trump, and Ben Car­son.

Clin­ton says she gets it, and she prom­ises to work with Re­pub­lic­ans if elec­ted. It’s hard to ima­gine that hap­pen­ing.

The vice pres­id­ent cer­tainly is a par­tis­an, but Biden is also the product of a time—he was first elec­ted to the Sen­ate in 1972—when polit­ic­al lead­ers worked to­geth­er, when party voters al­lowed their lead­ers to bar­gain, and when mem­bers of Con­gress lived in Wash­ing­ton and made friends on both sides of the polit­ic­al di­vide. It wasn’t per­fect, but it was in many ways bet­ter than now.

Biden re­mem­bers when there was an in­cent­ive to solve prob­lems.

“As the pres­id­ent has said many times,” he said, “com­prom­ise is not a dirty word. But look at it this way, folks: How does this coun­try func­tion without con­sensus? How can we move for­ward without be­ing able to ar­rive at con­sensus?”

Good ques­tions. We need an­swers. Time is run­ning out.