Don't Call It A Comeback, Old Handsome Joe's Been Here For Years
Joe Biden crushed all comers in the South Carolina primary Saturday. He's run for president three times since 1988, and his first ever victory speech was damn good. You might consider losing the first three contests a circuitous route to the White House, but I think it was the best thing for his campaign. We're finally seeing the Joe Biden I'd feared only existed in memes. Electability is important but it can't be the only argument. No one likes to feel as if you're pressuring their inner Elizabeth Bennet to just settle for Mr. Collins.
Uncle Joe didn't just resuscitate his campaign in South Carolina. He rebranded it as the underdog movement.
BIDEN: For all those of you who've been knocked down. Counted out. Left behind. This is your campaign. Just days ago, the press and the pundits declared this candidacy dead. Now, thanks to all of you, the heart of the Democratic Party, we just won, and we've won big because of you. And we are very much alive.
Black voters rallied behind Biden. They didn't abandon him after his devastating losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. Black South Carolinians were reportedly eager to "send a message" that they didn't take their cues on preferred candidates from predominately white states. This shouldn't surprise anyone. Few black folks anywhere follow the lead of white people in Iowa and New Hampshire. It's why you won't find funnel cake on a stick at your respectable soul food restaurants.
From the New York Times:
"We're the base, and we're yet to express ourselves," said David Cakley, a church deacon from Goose Creek, S.C, referring to black voters. "Biden needs a boost and we're going to give it to him."
Biden gratefully declared that black voters can "launch a candidacy," just as black voters in South Carolina set Bill Clinton and Barack Obama on the path to the Democratic nomination and eventually the presidency. Black voters weren't swayed by shiny new toy candidates. They stuck with Joe because they know him and trust him. You don't have to agree with him but you can't deny that depth of support.
BIDEN: We have the option of winning big or losing big. That's the choice. We need to build on the coalition and legacy of the most successful President in our lifetime, Barack Obama. And the way we do this is by bringing Americans together of every race, ethnicity, gender, economic station, Democrats, Republicans, Independents, people of every stripe. Look just like we did here in South Carolina. And like we can do across the entire country on Tuesday and beyond. Folks win big or lose. That's the choice.
In case you didn't know, Joe Biden is on the old side. I don't even know if I'm ready to say that Obama's the "most successful president" of Biden's lifetime, which literally includes FDR — who beat Hitler. That's when you know Biden loves the brother. Uncle Joe is ride or die with Obama. He doesn't talk trash about him or try to distance himself from him. That means a lot to black voters.
Biden went guns blazing against his chief rival, Bernie Sanders. Politics ain't beanbag, and Biden has make the case not just for himself but against the other front-runner.
BIDEN: Talk is cheap. False promises are deceptive, and talk about revolution ain't changing anyone's life. We need real changes, right now. Something I've done my whole career, and I'll do as President. Well, this isn't an election to spend all our time in a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. This is a battle for the soul of the United States of America.
It makes sense that Biden wouldn't bother riding in Sanders's lane. He embraces the idea that the Democratic Party has actually been worth a damn for the past 50 years. That's an effective message to the black community, who have a deep connection to the party and its leaders like John Lewis, Maxine Waters, Jim Clyburn, and the late Elijah Cummings. Biden doesn't just offer platitudes nor does he promote the status quo. He recalls classic Democratic rhetoric and links it all beautifully to his working-class background. His ability to speak movingly about his history and his personal tragedies is perhaps his greatest asset as a candidate.
BIDEN: My dad used to say, Joe, your job's about a lot more than the paycheck. It's about your dignity. It's about decency, respect. It's about your place in the community. It's being able to look your kid in the eye and say, honey, it's going to be okay. For all our families, for all our communities, because that's the right thing to do. That's what makes us Democrats.
Biden's pitch is that he's a proud Democrat and he has more practical government experience than a just paper route. Both are compelling arguments for black voters. Biden twice thanked Clyburn for his perhaps game-changing endorsement. Each time almost made me cry. First was when he came out on the stage to address the crowd.
BIDEN: My buddy Jim Clyburn you brought me back.
And later, toward the end of his remarks:
BIDEN: All of you here in South Carolina, and especially Jim Clyburn my friend, who lifted me in this campaign on his shoulders. And I mean all of you. Many I don't have time to name all of you. We, Jill and I, our daughter Ashley, my son Hunter has been on the phone straight through for me. My brothers, my sister, my two brothers, my sister, my five grandchildren, my four granddaughters who've come out on the campaign trail will never forget what you've done for us. Who can say without fear of contradiction, the Bidens love you guys man. The Bidens love you. That's real.
Regardless of the gaffes or the policy disagreements, I believed every word Biden said and the emotion behind them. That's his greatest gift. There's a lot of speculation about who Biden would pick as his vice president if he won the nomination. One thing's certain, whoever it is will report to Jim Clyburn.
Take a moment and watch Biden's entire speech below:
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."