Friday, April 26, 2019

Brooks on Biden

I may be pissed off with Biden, but I'll defend him to the death against the woozy admiration of David F. Brooks, who sees the Biden candidacy as part of the battle against meritocracy ("Your Average American Joe"):
Other people may claim to be populist in their policies — and because they are “right” on those, they are allowed to be contemptuous toward those who are less enlightened. Biden is a populist in his person and makeup — where he comes from and how he relates.
Joe's just a creature of intuition, not thought—a lovely, sweet-natured beast who will never make David Brooks feel ill-educated or inferior, as some unnamed person apparently does (Warren? Is that a backhanded reference to Warren?), piping his native wood-notes wild. You might think policy kinds of things would be important to somebody who's interested in governing, but then you might just be one of those elitists; simple-minded Joe understands that governing isn't a matter of gathering a bunch of extrinsic ideas but of being the right sort of person:

He wasn’t raised in the Adlai Stevenson stream of Democratic history, which identifies itself by education. He was raised in the Harry Truman stream, which identifies itself by middle-class decency, personal loyalty and practical sense.
(I don't know if it's relevant that Stevenson only ended up running for president in 1952 because of Truman, who begged him to, on the eve of the convention, as the only man who could save the party from his hated rival, the anti-crime crusader Estes Kefauver, evidently confident that Stevenson was OK on the decency, loyalty, and practical sense fronts.)

Though somewhere in Brooks's mind is a hazy sense that this isn't an intrinsic property but something achieved, a "status" that needs to be maintained:
How has he kept this average Joe, Everyman status?
Then again three weeks ago ("Why You Love Mayor Pete") it was fine for another candidate to be identified by education and résumé virtues as something that distinguished him from those angry socialists,
Young people are supposed to be woke social justice warriors who are disgusted by their elders. Buttigieg is the model young man who made his way impressing his elders — Harvard, Rhodes scholar, McKinsey, the Navy.
so who knows.

But I'll tell you how Biden has kept the status, if you want: through continuous, diligent effort, ever since the time he screwed the pooch in February 2007 by calling a rival presidential candidate "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." With the generous help of President Obama and the maybe not-so-generous assistance of Comedy Central and The Onion, and a certain Brooksian humility that has permitted him to adopt this persona of bumbling sidekick, Pat Brady to Obama's Roy Rogers.

If he does end up getting the nomination, I'll get into talking about how very meritorious and well-educated and not-average Biden actually is, but enough.

Bonus: Brooks on how Paul Ryan defeated Joe Biden in the 2012 vice-presidential debate:
At the same time, my in-box was filled with a certain number of people who would be happy if they could spend the next few weeks delivering some punches to Biden, and not just Republicans. What do independents want most? They want people who will practice a more respectful brand of politics, who will behave the way most Americans try to behave in their dealings: respectfully, maybe even pausing to listen for a second. To them, Biden will seem like an off-putting caricature of the worst of old-style politics....
A lot of people will look at Biden’s performance and see a style of politics that makes complex trade-offs impossible. The people who think this way swing general elections.
Ryan hails from a different era, not the era of the 1950s diner, but the era of the workout gym. By Ryan’s time, the national media culture was pervasive. The tone was cool, not hot. The meritocracy had kicked in and ambitious young people had learned to adopt a low friction manner. Ryan emerges from this culture in the same way Barack Obama does.
In addition, Ryan was nurtured by the conservative policy apparatus, and he had a tendency Thursday night to talk about policy even when he was asked about character. I would not say he defined a personality as firmly as he might have, but he did an excellent job of demonstrating policy professionalism. This debate was excessive in its attention to foreign policy — an arena that is a voting issue for very few. Ryan demonstrated amazing fluency, given how little time he has spent working in these areas.
Brooks's Biden was bad then for exactly the same reasons he's good now. Any questions on how Brooks comes to his conclusions?

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