What we arguably prize most in a presidential candidate is “authenticity” — a sense that we’re seeing a real person, not merely a walking compendium of poll numbers. And whatever one may think of Joe Biden’s politics, it’s clear that the guy we see is the guy we’d get.
He sat last night with Stephen Colbert, and I’d recommend you watch all 20 minutes. Not just because the two segments were genuinely moving — a rare and welcome departure from the usual late-night glitz and snark — but because the vice president gave us quite a paradox:
He has suffered a lot in his personal life — losing a young wife and young daughter; and most recently, his son Beau — but, Joe being Joe, he made no effort last night to hide his suffering. And he made it clear that his grief may well force him to forego a presidential bid. Yet it’s precisely his emotional frankness, the authenticity he exudes, that makes people pine for a Biden candidacy. His grief is his obstacle – yet, politically, it’s making him more attractive.
As Colbert said to him early on, “We see the real you.” And much later: “Your experience of suffering and service is something that would be sorely missed in the race.”
Colbert naturally popped The Question. This was Biden’s response: “Look, um, I don’t think any man or woman should run for president unless…they can look at the folks out there and say, ‘I promise you, you have my whole soul, my whole heart, my passion, to do this.’ And I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there. I’m being completely honest. Nobody has a right, in my view, to seek the office unless they’re willing to give 110 percent of who they are. I’m optimistic, I’m positive of where we’re going (as a country), but I find myself…I, sometimes it just overwhelms you.”
After a pause, to collect himself, he recounted a recent visit to Denver, where he met some military guys on a rope line. One of the guys called out that he served with Beau in Iraq — “and all of a sudden, I lost it. How could you — that’s not — I shouldn’t be saying this — but that, that – you can’t do that (as president). You can’t do that.”
Colbert, who at age 10 lost his father and two brothers in a plane crash, gripped Biden’s wrist at one point and said, “What’s the use of being Irish if you don’t know that life is going to break your heart?”
Never mind the formidable obstacles of launching a candidacy so late in the game, and fighting for market niche with Hillary and Bernie, and navigating the Biden policy stances that are anathema to the liberal Democratic base. I simply question whether it’s possible to sustain a presidential bid while nursing a broken heart.
Donald Trump is also authentic – an authentic jerk with a grandiose sense of entitlement, an authentic misogynist (“Look at that face!” he said of Carly Fiorina. “Would anyone vote for that?”). Lots of Republicans are besotted because he’s so darn real. So I doubt that Bobby Jindal’s assessment of Trump will change any minds – Jindal is a footnote in this race – but yesterday the Louisiana governor delivered the best take on Trump that we’re likely to get. It’s dime-store psychology, but it’s still a keeper:
“Like all narcissists, Donald Trump is insecure and weak, and afraid of being exposed. And that’s why he is constantly telling us how big and how rich and how great he is, and how insignificant everyone else is. We’ve all met people like Trump, and we know that only a very weak and small person needs to constantly tell us how strong and powerful he is. Donald Trump believes that he is the answer to every question.”
True that, Bobby. In the Republican debate next Wednesday, we’ll see if any of the so-called top-tier candidates have the moxie to condemn Trump’s toxic authenticity.