During the Democratic primary–as regular readers of this blog will remember–I was pretty adamant about America’s need for generational change. I was convinced that both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were simply too old to tackle the monumental task of rescuing the nation (or what is left of it in the wake of the train wreck that is the Trump administration). I thought that a restoration of hope, of possibility, required a younger, more energetic, more “woke” set of actors.
What I failed to take into account was the immense importance of competence borne of experience, especially at a juncture as perilous as the one we approach.You would think that–as an old woman myself–I would have recognized the value of lessons learned over a lifetime, many of them the hard way.
The Democrats have a truly impressive “bench” of very smart, very idealistic young people: Mayor Pete, AOC, a number of others. But they will still be smart (and hopefully, still idealistic) 4 or 8 or 12 years from now, and the experience they will have gained in those years will deepen their understanding of the political process and sharpen the skills it takes to negotiate the convoluted structures of governance.
The (virtual) Democratic Convention reminded me that Joe Biden–who was also a smart and idealistic youngster “back in the day”– offers America fifty years of successful public sector experience. Unlike the reality-show buffoon who currently occupies the Oval Office, he knows what it like to do the hard, grunt work of governing. He knows what it is like to encounter new facts and perspectives that make you recognize and admit that you’ve been on the wrong side of a policy issue. His deep experience with foreign leaders has allowed him to forge relationships that will be critical to re-establishing America’s reputation abroad (younger people simply haven’t had the time to establish those relationships, and President Obama drew heavily on them during his first term in office.)
His relationships with others in government, on both sides of the political aisle, have established his reputation as a person who can be trusted to keep his word, honor a commitment, and “tell it like it is.” That reputation simply cannot be established overnight; it requires time.
There’s another relationship that has been established over the years–Biden’s relationship with the American public. He’s a known quantity, which is why the efforts of the Crazy Guy In Chief to define him have fallen flat. GOP spin doctors may be able to paint AOC as some sort of communist (after all, she wants rich people to pay taxes! and she wants to save the environment!), but Joe Biden has already defined himself in the years that he has been a public figure.
These are assets that only come with experience.And time.
I still favor a generational shift, probably sooner than later, but I failed to appreciate the value and importance of Biden’s self-described status as a “transitional figure.” Assuming (as sane people must) a Democratic victory in November and a successful (probably ugly) transition of power, Joe Biden will bring extensive knowledge of government and how it does– and doesn’t– work to the monumental effort of repairing the damage.
If we are very lucky, if we give him the tools to work with by electing a sufficient number of thoughtful, non-lunatic people to the House and Senate, the government he hands over to a younger generation will be recognizably American again.
So, mea culpa. And think about Joe Biden, a competent and empathetic adult, as you watch the GOP convention nominate– and genuflect to– the child-sociopath who currently occupies the Oval Office.