The Awkward Joe Biden

The Awkward Joe Biden

There are nearly 20 declared Democratic candidates for next year’s election and yet one key figure remains aloof and undecided. Yes, hanging out there, somewhere in the horizon with a winning smile but a shadow cast in a question mark is none other than Joe Biden. You know him best as Obama’s other half but he’s also served in the past as a Senator for 36 years with a host of positions including Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s got the best experience of any of these Democratic hopefuls, charisma, and something most politicians lack; a genuine personality. So why not declare? Well, let’s get straight to the first and most pertinent stumbling block and fair warning, it’s a touchy subject…. okay, sorry.

Joe Biden’s been caught in a whirlwind of controversy this last week over a number of women claiming his “personal touch” to be a little invasive and inappropriate. This is by no means an explosive or recent discovery. In the past, many commentators and comedians like Jon Stewart have squirmed at Biden’s holding of shoulders, heads, and hugs for prolonged periods. It’s never been described as sexual harassment as such but rather just uncomfortable and strange. In the context of the #metoo era, perceptions have of course shifted however and Biden is now being asked to account for these instances.

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In a statement last Wednesday, he explained that any handshakes or hugs were always given as marks of “affection, support, and comfort”. He said he was not sorry for his “intentions” but acknowledged that “social norms are changing” while promising to be “more mindful” in the future. On Friday however, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Conference, after hugging the IBEW president, he joked that “he had permission” and then later made the same joke when others joined him on stage. (A bit sloppy, yes.) Well naturally, some people took this in jest and others with more affront, such as Tarana Burke (founder of #metoo movement) who said the jokes were “disrespectful and inexcusable” and that it was not enough for him to be “mindful,” he needed to make an effort to apologize properly.

Is this an overreaction? Part of me wants to say yes and defend Biden outright. After all, sensationalism in today’s media is driven by headlines rather than analysis. Most people who catch a whiff of these headlines, I hope, would delve deeper and read a bit into it. But words like “allegations,” “accusations”, and so forth have such a weight to them now that I fear Biden will be dragged into the company of far worse offenders. He certainly did himself no favors with his jokes but he did, at least, respond and yes, I do think “intentions” matter. I don’t think most people honestly consider this man to be a true creep like say, the President of the United States.

Biden’s of a different generation and age; a fact some commentators don’t think matters given the gravitas of this cultural change we’re experiencing but context is always crucial. Our backgrounds shape us, for better or worse. Biden, has suffered the loss of a wife, a daughter, and son in his tragic past and often made a connection with people in hard times through words or hugs. Most politicians do this, albeit to lesser extents. He’s 76 as well so his customs and mannerisms may be off tilt with younger generations.

That’s all just pause for thought, more than anything though. Before we #cancel Biden, we need to examine what value is to be attained in judging people’s morals and conduct retrospectively. If it’s for the cause of attaining a better 2020 candidate for the Democrats, then maybe there is something there. After all, the party has become more liberal and with so many alternatives on board, why should we accept the obvious choice like so many did with Hillary in 2016? There’s a few reasons:

  1. Some of these candidates suck, are disingenuous, and do nothing but pander to the liberal waves like Kirsten Gillibrand
  2. The aforementioned level of experience
  3. He has the highest polling
  4. He can appeal to moderates who might otherwise side with Trump
  5. He’s charismatic and likable; marketable too
  6. Association with Obama

There’s definitely reasonable debate on whether or not he should run. I would agree with Ross Douhat (New York Times) that, if he does, he should run on his record rather than against it. Any sharp left-wing moves will be preyed upon by the media, his fellow candidates, and online trolls and then mocked by Trump. There is a section of Trump’s base to be swayed too who actually do care about labor unions, health care, and other important issues, which Biden can speak to with precision as others might vaguely address. Plus, if nothing else, it’ll at least give Democratic voters some alternative to the growing liberalism represented by candidates like Booker, Sanders, Warren, and O’Rourke. Then, they can’t whine come November 2020.

Biden has always been “awkward”, prone to gaffes, and toneless remarks (e.g. wishing he “could” have done something about the Anita Hill sexual harassment trial in the early 90s, despite then being chair of the Judiciary Committee.) His record is not squeaky clean. He’s even run twice before and failed. In the Democratic Party’s quest for greater wokeness however, it can’t be worthwhile to decry and discard every ally who’s ever done wrong. When the bar is set this high, the likelihood for success becomes increasingly narrow and the bigger picture gets lost. The Republicans understand this much, if anything. I also don’t want to see Trump re-elected because his opponents couldn’t find their Messiah.

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Reflections – Election 2016

Reflections – Election 2016

A state of shell-shock remains. Although we’ve had nearly two days now to process the results, I still can’t help shake the feeling that we are living in some kind of dark, twisted timeline; one in which Donald Trump has won the presidential race. What’s most terrifying of course is that this most simple statement will soon feel natural to the tongue: Donald J. Trump is president! If shudders could echo, the world would burst apart at the seams. Alas, we must now accept this. And so, even though it feels slightly disheartening and pointless, we must try and diagnose exactly what went wrong.

Why Trump Won 

1. Voter Apathy – The facts are not clear yet but it seems that 130 million out of 230 million (approximately) went out to vote this year. The ones who didn’t presumably had something better to do, like catch all new episodes of ABC’s The Middle. This long-held popular belief among many however that voting “doesn’t make a difference” and that “they’re all the same” has cost humanity dearly this time. To any who chose not to vote; you only have yourself to blame – do not try to hide behind some miscalculated notion of being too dignified to get your hands dirty. It may well emerge that the real victims of a Trump presidency are minority groups in the U.S., particularly African Americans, and Latinos. The tragedy here is that voter apathy played a significant role within these demographies. For example; a woman in Alabama littered her front yard with signs that read, “African American’s Don’t Vote November 8, 2016 Presidential Election,” which coincided with a t-shirt and flier campaign to discourage blacks from voting. The central argument here is that a larger number of the electorate were simply dissatisfied with the choice they were presented with. This, though, is simply not good enough. Remember, where apathy festers, mercy is not forthcoming.

2. The Media – The mass media gave far too much time to Trump from the beginning and they calculated the spirit of the American voter so poorly that they influenced not only the course and outcome of this election but the threshold for what would become acceptable in American political rhetoric. Bernie bemoaned this in nearly every televised interview he gave but the priority always lay with whatever crap Trump was up to. As for the pieces on celebrity endorsements and their reactions to the results; really? Next time around, pay serious attention to the people of America, not just their idols. It’s condescending, it’s click-bait cheap, and it’s irresponsible! On another note, the reputation of pollsters now hangs by a thread. Placing faith in polls has always been a worthless endeavour, as has been proved through the recent referendums on Scottish Independence, and Brexit. The Media’s pitiful dedication to spurious poll figures throughout this year’s election coverage has cast a serious shadow over the public’s faith in various agents of information.

3. American Culture – While it seems the Religious Right may not have been as pertinent to the outcome of this election as others, the clear divide in liberal and conservative circles has become more evident than ever. We cannot ignore the people of the Midwestern states any longer; they are as much a part of the American fabric as liberals are. The states of Wisconsin and Michigan hung in the balance for much of election night, which indicated the Democrats risky strategy of targeting densely populated urban areas like Detroit. The same can even be said of Virginia, and Pennsylvania.  Also, bigotry, sexism, and racism are apparently no longer on the blacklist.

 

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The State of the Nation 

 

What Does This Mean?

1. Global Warming – Climate change is the most significant issue for our generation. Trump, if we are to believe him (and I don’t know whether to) believes it is a hoax- so do many Republicans and they control the House and Senate. This is the most dangerous repercussion of the election as a result, as the US could withdraw its support from the Paris accords and its commitment to a cleaner future.

2. Obama’s Legacy – This was my first thought after “oh shit…” On November 8, I expected to wake up the next morning to a comfortable Clinton lead and a Democratic Senate. There would be change undoubtedly but for the most part, programs such as the Affordable Care Act would be upheld. Now, it could all be undone. Obama’s pages in the history book could effectively be erased. It was a glum, knee-jerk reaction and I can only hope, these darkest fears won’t be realized. It’ll take two years of intensive marshaling on the Democratic Party’s part against Republicans on the floor of the Senate (thankfully the GOP majority is not a 2/3 one) but beyond that, Congress must be regained in the 2018 mid-term elections.

3. Perhaps It Won’t Be Too Bad? – There’s Republicans all around him but I’ve always believed that the office of the presidency eschews overt partisan influences. Presidents have to tackle problems as they arise and with many issues (especially foreign ones), that calls for what is simply, the best response. Sometimes at home, that can mean playing the middle ground. Let’s not forget, George Bush Sr. raised taxes despite an election pledge and Bill Clinton chose to work with a Republican majority where he could. Admittedly this is a thin veil of hope. Let’s consider another desperate avenue then- Trump’s ego. It’s big and I doubt he would like to go down as the worst president in US history. Right? Again, we’re clutching at straws here.

Hillary’s Concession

Clinton’s concession speech was indeed “painful” but it was also beautiful because it revealed something a great many of us had forgotten; that she’s just a human being too. With this speech, it likely dawned on many people what a big mistake had been made, not only at the polling booths but throughout the entire election cycle, when people chose to take her up on every minuscule non-controversy. Her political career may be at an end now (it may also not be) but her example for women and girls out there should never be forgotten. She did not moan. She did not contest the election. She did not say she lost because she’s a woman (although, I think we’ve got to accept there’s an element of truth behind this idea). Rather, she accepted the result with grace and eloquently said that we owe Trump the “open mind” he refused so many.

Obama’s Last Months

As the transition from a Democratic to a Republican White House takes place, a great deal of the Walrus’ attention will focus on the legacy of Barack Obama. Time has a way of clearing perspective which will undoubtedly change much of what we have to say on his domestic and foreign efforts. The class with which he has conducted himself these past two days however, cannot be repudiated. He’s undoubtedly disappointed, angered, and upset by the results. He has also recognized however the effort Bush II’s team made for him upon taking office in 2009. Trump’s success is America’s, he stated. What else can a true patriot say?

Presidential Debate Tips For Trump & Clinton

Presidential Debate Tips For Trump & Clinton

On Monday, the 26th September, Clinton and Trump will engage in the first of three national televised presidential debates. Anyone who caught the back-and-forth between Trump and Jeb or Trump and Cruz or Trump and Rubio during the Republican primaries will understand just how pivotal these forums can be. Simple gaffes can destroy a candidate’s legitimacy. Poor phrasing can undermine a crucial point they want to convey. Even the wrong body language can result in severe repercussions. So what should Clinton and Trump take note of? We here at the Walrus thought it would be worth taking a trip down memory lane.

Kennedy vs. Nixon (1960)

This race heralded the first national televised debate, as the young and charismatic John F. Kennedy squared off against the raging jowls of Richard M. Nixon. Whilst many Americans, listening to the debate on their radios, felt that the Vice-President succeeded in offering a better vision for America, the television viewers felt differently. A wearisome, sick Nixon simply came off as less confident and able on the black-and-white screen. Kennedy, on the other hand, understood this medium in the way FDR understood how the radio could be used to communicate. He spoke clearly and held himself firmly- a man who was comfortable with nothing to hide.

Trump, of course, is no stranger to the televised medium and despite his outlandish hairdo, comes across as quite a unique and exciting figure to beheld. Hillary however, whilst experienced, often appears stiff and calculated, like she’s reading from a prompter.

Ford vs. Carter (1976)

Jerry Ford was one of the most affable presidents America ever had. He didn’t boast the sharpest of wits however, as evident in one of his and Carter’s national televised debates, when he stated that “there is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.” Carter wryly smiled whilst the stunned moderator, Max Frankel, responded, “I’m sorry. What?…” This performance only served to reflect and reaffirm the credibility of Chevy Chase’s SNL Ford; a bumbling, awkward man barely getting on by in the job. It may have been a just a little slip, but it cost Ford dearly in the media and public’s perception of him. Trump, in particular, should take note here. He may have gotten away with his random gesticulations in the primaries but Clinton, unlike most the GOP, is hawkish and ready to pounce on any little mis-step.

Carter vs. Reagan/ Mondale vs. Reagan (1980 and 1984)

Ronald Reagan was hardly the smartest of US presidents either but he was a great communicator. He had a way of brushing off criticism and making his opponents feel a bit overbearing. Against Carter, we saw this when he said “there you go again,” in response to a criticism the President made about Reagan’s stance on a past healthcare bill. Against Mondale, we saw this when he quipped “I will not make age an  an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.” In that brilliant soundbite, he not only pushed aside any genuine concerns about his age, but also posed a good counterpoint and reinforced his likability as a humorous man. So if Hillary could crack a few more lines like “you heard none of this at the Republican convention and Trump went on for 70-odd minutes- and they were odd,” that would be just dandy. This kind of reflex is perfect for the Youtube generation.

Bush I vs. Clinton vs. Perot (1992)

Don’t look at your watch! The Commander-in-Chief George HW Bush made this fatal error in a three-way debate against Slick Willy and a more credulous billionaire than Trump. While Bush may have had pressing matters on his hands, this quick, likely subconscious act, reflected the media’s perception of him as a man both out-of-touch with/ not interested in the common man. Bill, in contrast, not only didn’t get distracted, he stood up and walked out from the center of the stage to make eye contact with the people asking questions. He is of course, in a league of his own, but it’s worth noting nonetheless that you must always respect the time given for these debates, even if they are repetitive and pointless.

Gore vs. Bush II (2000)

To borrow a term from W’s lexicon, Al Gore misunderestimated his opponent. Whilst the second Bush was clearly nowhere near as clever as the Vice-President, he did manage to come across to a great many people as a likable and relatable individual. Gore tried to pounce on his basic understanding of the issues with a multitude of condescending mannerisms. At one point, he walked over to Bush as if to confront him man-to-man on a question he felt he gave the better answer to. At another point, he loudly sighed. It’s not exactly fair but the public do like an underdog and in this case, they gave Bush II enough wriggle room for the contentious count-up that followed. In this year’s case, it may be tempting for Hillary to act this exact same way, but there is a line between humouring your base and offending the other. Reagan understood this; Gore didn’t.

 

And so Clinton and Trump should now be well prepared for September 26th if they have read this. Naturally we have only scratched the surface but it is clear from these cases that a winning personality and sharp wit does the job best. Hillary has the latter and to some- let’s call them progressively challenged people- Trump boasts the former. We may be given stiff, unintelligible, and ambiguous answers next week but one thing’s for sure, the entertainment factor will be huuuuuge. 

 

 

Why Bernie Didn’t Sell Out

Why Bernie Didn’t Sell Out

Last week marked the unofficial end of the rivalry between Hillary Rodham Clinton and that ever cantankerous Senator Sanders. In a speech delivered before the people of New Hampshire, who voted in his favour, he addressed the question of his movement’s future and where his loyalty lay. I watched this as it streamed live on Facebook, torn between the body language of the two figures at the podium and the incoming flood of knee-jerk reactions from half-wits and the odd informed. Many complimented this change in tone; it had after all been a long and arduous primary season. Others lamented however Bernie’s decision to stand by the Devil and surrender everything he had ever stood for. And that’s where we stop because (and I’ll put this plainly), Bernie didn’t sell out. Here’s why:

  1. He won on the issues- if you listened to Clinton’s speech, which directly followed Sanders’ endorsement, you will have noticed how clever SNL were with their skit on Clinton becoming more and more Sanders’ like (to the point where Kate McKinnon ended up with a bald cap). At first, I gave her the benefit of the doubt on the assumption that she just isn’t as conservative as the uber-liberals have suggested. When it came to Wall Street however and her bargaining plea to overturn Citizen’s United, it became clear that she was taking note of the issues that prevailed in the debates, brought about because of Sanders’ longstanding rhetoric. She delved into college fees and global warming too, which made for a nice combination, leading me to believe that she has moved far more to the left than even the most hawkish of critics could have guessed.
  2. It’s not just about the Presidency- Sanders’ movement and the rise of the Left cannot solely rely on an office tampered with more than ever. It needs to endure beyond one or two terms into a progressive model by which the future of the Democratic Party can be shaped. Yes, Hillary has, in many senses, won the battle but the future could be Sanders, so long as the issues on which he based his candidacy, continue to resonate. As mentioned above, I think they already have to the point that Hillary can’t afford to ignore them. As well as that however, he can also serve as a highly influential figure outside of the White House. Who, for example, had more of an effect on American culture in the 1960s than Martin Luther King? Has Jimmy Carter not accomplished some of his best work out of office? The presidency is a convenient altar, through which many channels, from foreign aid to educational reform, can be distributed but as Bill Clinton himself has noted, it’s also prey to circumstances beyond a president’s control (e.g. 9/11).
  3. Trump must be defeated- I’ll admit that this is not my favourite argument as I do not believe elections should be contested on the basis of fighting against, rather than for something. It is an important one though and whether it depresses you or not, voting for the lesser of two so-called evils is still worthwhile. Bernie’s candidacy, has gone as far it needs to, in my opinion. With the Democratic National Convention coming up, it has become clear that his issues and supporters will not simply be sidelined but incorporated into the party’s agenda for the coming years. For now, he needs to ensure, if his own visions are to be realised though, that this party does as well as it can come November. Otherwise, the country will head in the exact opposite direction with Trump.
  4. Listen to the speech again- Sanders didn’t have to necessarily endorse Clinton but it was the responsible thing to do; what purpose would their rivalry have served after all? Not enough to sway you? Listen to the speech again then and tell me where exactly he abandons the principles on which he built his campaign? Still not enough? Take a trip through his YouTube interviews and go back to a year ago when he expressed his admiration for Hillary Clinton whilst acknowledging their differences of opinions. Granted, the race heated up and nostrils flared during the primary season but the gulf in rhetoric that existed between their camps, was never as deep as many of Sanders’ less reasonable supporters suggested. He fought a good battle and we can only admire him for what he did but that battle is over now and at some point, you have to concede and look to the positives.

It’s undoubtedly sad to see Bernie leave the race; he shook things up and set the country’s vision towards a better tomorrow, in a manner we just couldn’t have expected over a year ago with the “inevitable” Clinton candidacy. His role however in this race will at least go down in the history books and his role to come will remain that of an inspiring spokesman for a disenfranchised generation.