Feehery: Defining Joe Biden

Feehery: Defining Joe Biden
© Greg Nash

In 1964, Phyliss Schlafly wrote “A Choice, Not An Echo,” a book that defined the conservative movement and set the stage for the Reagan Revolution. 

Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides MORE is currently leading every major poll for both the Democratic Party and for the 2020 presidential contest. He must be considered to be the odds-on favorite to win the White House. 

And yet, when you ask anybody about the Biden campaign, especially Democratic activists, they don’t consider him to be a shoo-in by any measure. Instead, they express grave doubts about his ability to survive a primary, let alone beat the seemingly vulnerable Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE.


Part of that hesitation comes in how we all look at Joe Biden as he makes his last campaign for the White House. 

We all know Joe. We know his compelling family history, his ability to overcome tragedy, his inability to be scripted, which works in this age of authenticity. 

We also know him because he spent his entire life in Washington, first as a back-bench senator, then as the chairman of the Judiciary Committee and eventually as vice president to Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary George Conway: 'If Barack Obama had done this' Republicans would be 'out for blood' George Conway to take part in MSNBC impeachment hearing coverage MORE. 

There haven’t been many presidents who have a longer Washington résumé than Joe Biden. 

And that goes to the question: How will Uncle Joe be defined in the minds of the voters? 

Will he be the last defender of a political establishment, an establishment that was largely destroyed by Donald Trump on the Republican side of the aisle and is under assault by Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides MORE (D-Mass.) and just about every other Democratic candidate for the White House, outside of Mr. Biden?

Is that a winning strategy?    

And how will Joe Biden define himself? Is it enough to say that he is not Donald Trump? 

Speaking of Trump, are the two really that different?

Both are white, male baby boomers who fancy themselves to be defenders of working-class, blue-collar Democrats. They both say things that stretch credulity at times. They both worry about bad trade agreements, both preach about America’s declining manufacturing sector, both have worried about out-of-control crime in the past. 

Trump, of course, has actually done something to help blue-collar Democrats, standing up to the Chinese, revitalizing our manufacturing base, sparking an economy that has delivered the lowest unemployment rate in 50 years and signing a criminal justice reform that will hopefully have a positive impact on America’s underclass. 

Biden, on the other hand, presided as a senator over America’s manufacturing decline, voted to give China permanent normal trade status, voted for NAFTA and, as vice president, presided over the weakest and slowest economic recovery in our nation’s history. 

For the progressive left, there is another nagging question: Is Joe Biden woke enough? Will a vote for an aging, white, male baby boomer be a sufficient act of resistance to the current patriarchy that rules America?

Biden’s history would suggest not. Sure, he pushed President Obama to embrace same-sex marriage, but his treatment of Anita HillAnita Faye HillFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Christine Blasey Ford makes rare public appearance to accept empowerment award Anita Hill: 'I am ready to hold Joe Biden accountable' MORE during the Clarence ThomasClarence ThomasFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Katie Hill calls out a 'double standard' in final floor speech Brent Budowsky: SCOTUS will affirm US v. Nixon MORE hearings, his support of the Clinton crime bill that imprisoned so many black Americans and his previous expressed concerned about mandatory school desegregation and forced busing doesn’t fit in with the current worldview that dominates the Democratic Party.

Winning candidates for the White House are able to successfully define themselves as the answer to the top concerns of the majority of the voters. 

Ronald Reagan was strong where Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterThe Hill's Morning Report - Diplomats kick off public evidence about Trump, Ukraine The Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems, GOP dig in for public impeachment hearings Jimmy Carter recovering from brain surgery with 'no complications' MORE was weak. Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Harris lead Trump in Georgia: Poll Keep your eye on essential facts in the unfolding impeachment circus MORE focused on the domestic economy, while George H.W. Bush was distracted by foreign policy. Obama promised change you could believe in. 

All of these winning campaigns promised not only to be a real choice, but also to be a choice that the voters desperately wanted. 

It’s not clear to me if Joe Biden’s personal story is enough to get him over the finish line. He presents more of an echo of the past than a real choice for the future to the voters who most matter. 

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis HastertJohn (Dennis) Dennis HastertFeehery: What Republicans must do to adapt to political realignment Feehery: How Republicans can win back the suburbs John Feehery: Mutiny on the Bounty MORE (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).