“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.