If Joe Biden Will Just Be His Mainstream, Center-left Self, He Can Win This Thing

Since a lackluster performance in the first Democratic presidential debate last month, Joe Biden has lost much of the aura of the confident front-runner that once surrounded his candidacy. The race, however, is still Biden's to lose, or at least it should be, if he plays his cards right. Starting Wednesday night during the debate in Detroit, he should embrace, confidently and unapologetically, what he is: a mainstream, center-left Democrat who believes in the party's core values but won't demonize conservatives and isn't afraid to reach across the aisle and find common ground.After the last few years of hyperpartisanship, increasing radicalism on both left and right, and polarized Twitter rage from the Oval Office on down, there is a tremendous appetite in America for a return to more centrist, civil normalcy. No one is better positioned to embody that desire than the amiable and likable former vice president.In order to take up that mantle, however, he will have to convey that his relative moderation is rooted in conviction, prudence and pragmatism, not vacillation and weakness. On a whole range of issues, Biden should push back against the leftward lurch of his main Democratic rivals, staking out positions much closer to the mainstream of American public opinion.On immigration, he should emphasize that the United States has always drawn strength from its immigrant populations, and that he opposes the wall and the policy of separating families at the border. At the same time, however, he must stress the need for an orderly immigration policy that respects the rule of law, resisting calls to abolish ICE and establish de facto open borders.On abortion, he should stress his own pro-choice position and his commitment to appoint judges who share that general philosophy. He should also, though, make clear that he respects the deeply held convictions of the millions of Americans who oppose abortion rights, and that this respect has always informed his opposition to taxpayer funding for the procedure (embodied in his votes for the Hyde Amendment). He has, unfortunately, already created considerable confusion with his vacillation and ambiguity on this score, but he could perhaps salvage something by taking this consistent stance going forward.On financial reparations for slavery, Biden should express considerable skepticism about the deeply divisive and logistically unworkable idea. A national debate over exactly who owes what to whom would not only fan the flames of racial resentment, he should say, but also distract from the more important, forward-looking task of increasing economic opportunity and social inclusion for African Americans. The goal, he must emphasize, should be to heal the racial divisions of the Trump era, not to encourage even more strife with proposals sure to cleave the country along racial lines.Finally, on health care, Biden should stress his desire to strengthen and expand the Affordable Care Act (the signature achievement that he once famously proclaimed "a big ... deal"), not replace it with a prohibitively expensive, single-payer, "Medicare for All" scheme that would strip millions of Americans of their private health insurance. While Biden owns his position and has never wavered, competitors continue to try to square the circle of low cost, high quality, quick access to care, and patient choice (often, like Sen. Kamala Harris this week, appearing to contradict their previous stances). The guiding principle in health care reform, Biden must stress, should be to provide Americans more choices in securing health care for their families, not fewer.If Biden were to resolutely embrace these positions and defend them vigorously in the face of the inevitable angry attacks from his left, he would be the odds-on favorite to win not only the nomination, but the presidency. Contrary to the stereotype of the fire-breathing socialist identity-politics warrior, most Democratic voters in this country self-identify as conservative, moderate or only "somewhat liberal." The hard left will be somewhat overrepresented among primary and caucus voters, but a coalition of older, blue-collar moderates, African Americans (who tend to be less liberal than often thought, and among whom Biden has considerable appeal), and those simply looking for the best bet to beat Trump would yield a strong plurality in most states — especially with multiple rivals dividing the leftist vote.Biden will never be the candidate of the woke activists, and attempts to placate them only serve to make him look insincere and to provide Trump with material to paint him in 2020 as a dangerous, out-of-touch leftist. Moreover, to be a unifying, moderate candidate, Biden doesn't need to put on an act. In an America weary of extremist politics, polarizing vitriol and demonization of opponents, Biden's path to victory is simple: be who he has always been, with confidence and conviction, and promise a return to normalcy and sanity. Will he do that? We'll begin to find out Wednesday night.Matthew Wilson is a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.   Continue reading...

Copyright The Dallas Morning News
Contact Us