Joe Biden Needs to Start Acting Like a Presidential Candidate

Joe Biden Needs to Start Acting Like a Presidential Candidate

Joe Biden Needs to Start Acting Like a Presidential Candidate

Advice for the apparent Democratic nominee on how to behave like a leader—and defeat Donald Trump—in the middle of a pandemic.


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The Democrats have a nominee for president. It is former vice president Joe Biden. Bernie Sanders endorsed him; all the other Democrats who ran against him endorsed him; former President Barack Obama endorsed him. The primary is over, and the general election has begun.

So where the hell is Joe Biden? Why isn’t he on my television every day? Why isn’t he offering counterprogramming to Donald Trump’s daily ’rona rallies (which I’ve been begging the networks to stop broadcasting live). Right now, it feels like the only Democrat running for president is New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, while Biden has been busy polishing his résumé for

Meanwhile, the cable networks have decided, once again, to help the Trump campaign by giving him billions of dollars of free media. I’m not making that up. Donald Trump goes on Twitter and television every day and promises Americans miracle cures and a stimulus check with his name on it. He holds court while sitting on a throne figuratively composed of the dead bodies of the victims of his administration’s ineffective response to the pandemic. And all Biden can come up with in response to this flagrant failure of governance is a 940-word essay in The New York Times. Maybe next week Biden can write a cartoon caption for The New Yorker so we know he still has a pulse.

Biden’s op-ed wasn’t even that good. Elizabeth Warren has more concrete and detailed plans for leading her dog on a walk than Biden does for leading the country through this tragedy. Just look at this entirely useless paragraph that reads like it was cribbed from a seventh grader’s social studies assignment:

If I were president, I would convene top experts from the private sector, industry by industry, to come up with new ideas on how to operate more safely. Perhaps offices and factories will need to space out workers and pursue other solutions to lessen risk of spread of the virus on the job. Restaurants may need new layouts, with diners farther apart.

“Perhaps” Joe Biden should start running for president and stop putting ideas into the suggestion box at Applebee’s.

Biden must do better. If he wants to be a president, he must start acting like one. I don’t want to hear his thought experiment about convening industry leaders. I want Biden to send out a Zoom link and convene them, now. Then he should hold a press conference with all of them standing behind him (six feet apart, unlike the current hand-shaker in chief) and tell us how he plans to save the economy. He should contrast his plan to the Trump administration’s plan of ordering people to die to save the stock market.

Biden should be out there with his own team of medical experts and public health professionals telling us what we should really be doing to protect ourselves and our families. This is a huge opportunity for Biden and the Democrats in general. Dr. Anthony Fauci has struggled, bravely, to maintain his credibility, but we know he’s compromised by trying to stay as close to Trump’s message as he can without debasing himself like the other so-called experts in Trump’s orbit. Trump’s demand for loyalty to his lying regime leaves a bunch of brilliant professionals out on the sidelines. Biden should call them up and put them on television. He should surround himself with experts willing to tell the hard truths that even Fauci dare not speak, and Biden should do this in front of cameras as much as possible.

Millions and millions of people have been laid off or furloughed because of this crisis. Trump never talks about them, because his narcissism demands a constant stream of positive stories about his own greatness. But Biden can and should talk about them. He should even talk to them. He should be holding press conferences with union leaders who are trying to find ways to avoid layoffs. He should be holding public meetings with the people fighting to get paid leave. The faces of the economic victims of this pandemic are not the CEOs of airlines; they’re the laid-off flight attendants and the furloughed baggage handlers. I don’t want to hear Biden tell me whom he’d be fighting for if he were president tomorrow; I want him to show me whom he’s fighting for today.

I imagine that, somewhere in Biden-land, somebody is whispering in the candidate’s ear, cautioning him against “politicizing” the pandemic. Or maybe the campaign is falling back on that old idea that Trump supporters will abandon Trump because of his latest show of bumbling incompetence (notwithstanding that they didn’t abandon him last time, or the time before that, or during any of the thousands of scandals that should have ended Trump’s presidency). I imagine this because “thinking like a Democrat” means talking about Trump as if he were a unique, unprecedented threat to America but being too afraid to actually do anything unique or unprecedented to counter him. Democrats always lose trying to follow “the rules,” while Republicans win and use the rule book as kindling.

There is no level of “politicization” that is out of bounds when it comes to the response to this virus. Trump has rendered that word meaningless. Biden cannot worry about politicizing the crisis, not when Trump is delaying stimulus checks so the Treasury Department can put his name on them. Not when Trump is directing federal resources only to state governors who are nice to him on TV. Not when Trump and the Supreme Court are forcing people to risk their lives by voting in person because they’re trying to help Republicans win elections.

Republicans have even turned good hygiene and social distancing into a political battle, instead of a medical one. There are now people who think shaking hands is an act of defiance against the “liberal media.” Eventually, science will prove these people wrong, but evolution by natural selection takes time and our species will not see those benefits before November 3.

We cannot wait for Darwin, we are stuck with Biden. And that means Biden has to get in the game. He needs to start using the tools of the enemy to defeat the enemy.

Biden’s Twitter feed should be a constant stream of coronavirus information. It should be a place to lift up the voices of those being snuffed out by this disease and Trump’s ineffectual response to it. His digital schedule should be as full as his public schedule would have been if a real-world campaign were possible right now.

If there is a nurse telling her Instagram followers how difficult it is to get personal protective equipment, I want to see the message “Joe Biden joins the chat.” Every single time Trump does a press conference, Biden and his team of experts should be ready to go with one of theirs. And if the networks don’t carry Biden’s conferences live, as they do Trump’s, then I want lawsuits against every major network demanding equal time. (Even though those lawsuits would fail, the act of forcing the networks to argue that Trump’s rallies are eligible for the “news events” exception to the equal time rule would be worth the price of admission.)

I don’t want a Democratic nominee for president. I want a better president. And I see no reason why I should have to wait until 2021 to get one. Joe Biden can start acting like a good president right now, instead of promising to be one in the future. If he does, voters will “reelect” Biden in November, and put an official end to Trump’s fake leadership.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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