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

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

“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.

Ron Fournier

Ron Fournier is the Senior Political Columnist and Editorial Director of National Journal. Prior to joining NJ, he worked at the Associated Press for 20 years, most recently as Washington Bureau Chief. A Detroit native, Fournier began his career in Arkansas, first with the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record and then with the Arkansas Democrat and the AP, where he covered the state legislature and Gov. Bill Clinton.

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