Joe Biden is running a 'heart-on-your-sleeve' campaign

Published on Wednesday, 28 August 2019 14:18
Written by Jennifer Rubin

The Washington Post

Former vice president Joe Biden’s latest ad perfectly encapsulates his campaign.

This is Biden’s strength - his ability to bear his own soul in a way that offers to let others do the same and seek consolation and comfort.

Biden is at his best when he is talking to a mother whose son was a victim of gun violence, or when talking to a young man with a stutter, something he struggled to overcome.

In a race in which candidates are jockeying to be the most un-Trumpian candidate - whether by intellect, ideology, experience or vitality - Americans are reminded he is a man of decency, kindness and loyalty.

This is the polar opposite of a president who gives a thumbs-up with an baby orphaned by the El Paso shooting, who brags about crowd size on a day of mourning and who attacks opponents in between stops with survivors and their grieving families. Trump is entirely lacking in empathy and sincerity; Biden has a surplus of both.

Biden’s recent tribute to the late Sen. John McCain reflected on the qualities that Biden admired. “One year ago, we lost a political giant, and a genuine American hero - my friend, my frequent opponent - John McCain. We still feel keenly his loss in our public life,” his statement began. He continued:

“John believed so deeply and so passionately in the core values of our nation, that he made them seem more real, and he made it easier for the rest of us to believe in them too. He made us proud of ourselves. He believed in us, his fellow Americans, and today, on the anniversary of his passing, we must all remember his final instruction to us: ‘Believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here.’”

While McCain will be remembered in a category entirely his own for his bravery and loyalty in war, Biden aspires to evoke in voters the same optimism and core values. If Biden passionately believes America can do “anything,” as he says, voters might, too.

We may be in an age that is far too snarky, cynical and polarized for that message. It is certainly understandable that older voters who’ve lived in a United States that is kinder, gentler and more unified would appreciate that message.

However, building a presidential campaign based not on policy plans but on emotion, aspiration and inspiration is a very contemporary phenomenon. Bill Clinton’s “I feel your pain” and Barack Obama’s hope and change reflected an awareness that voters want more than PowerPoint presentations from their president. They want to know he or she sees, understands and cares deeply about them.

If one looks at the top candidates, Biden is arguably the candidate who most echoes Clinton and Obama on this score, while Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. - who doesn’t want to share much of himself with voters and who operates on one emotional note (angry) - is the least.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who started with a mostly intellectual, policy-based presentation (I’ve got a plan!), has become adept at weaving in her own personal story. Like a great actor or a maestro conducting a symphony orchestra, she is able to draw emotion from the audience, navigating a full dynamic range (from pianissimo to fortissimo).

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is on the Biden side of the spectrum. She is at her best when speaking in a church, hugging someone who has lost a loved one to gun violence or giving heart-to-heart advice and encouragement to a young women and girls. (Her tag line “Dude gotta go” has gotten traction, but the idea of “chin up, shoulders back, you are meant to be where you are,” which she imparts in these intimate conversations, tells you more about her emotional IQ.) Her “3 a.m.” agenda is important for what it contains (e.g. tax cut, health care), but it’s more important for her to convey that she understands the everyday needs and worries of voters.

What pundits miss in their search for policy minutiae and ideological analysis is that many voters, I’d say most voters, don’t pick presidents based on what candidates think. Voters choose based on how the candidates make them feel.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Column on Wednesday, 28 August 2019 14:18. Updated: Wednesday, 28 August 2019 14:20.