Bob Schwartz

Tag: Joe Biden

What if Hillary had to face these contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2016?

This is a thought experiment.

Back in 2008, Hillary Clinton presumed that she would be the front runner for the Democratic nomination and would be the eventual winner. Then along came the phenomenon of Barack Obama, who wrestled the nomination from her because…well, because Hillary is no Obama.

In 2016, it was planned that Hillary Clinton would have little opposition for the Democratic presidential nomination. Maybe a token opponent to make it look competitive and democratic, but little more than that. Somehow, the most un-Obamaish candidate imaginable came along to almost spoil the party for her again. Bernie Sanders didn’t make it, Hillary became the nominee. Being less than the perfect candidate, Hillary was unable to close the deal in the general election, even against the most reprehensible Republican candidate—one who went on to be the most reprehensible president.

What if we retroject all the current Democratic candidates for the nomination back to 2016—including Joe Biden (who didn’t run against her) and Bernie Sanders (who did)? Do you think she would have still won the nomination?

There are reasons to think she might not. One thought is that her unique status as the only woman candidate would be immediately gone; six women are currently running, two of them high in the polls. Another thought is that while Hillary was severely tested by Obama in 2008, she faced less testing in 2016 before she faced Trump as the candidate. Would she have withstood the attacks that are natural from such a huge field? Would the Democratic Party establishment have been able to “protect” her and still seem fair-minded and even-handed?

From the Unpublished Archive: It’s Now Safe for All Democrats to Love Joe Biden

This was written in October 2015, when Joe Biden announced he would not run for the Democratic nomination. The election story isn’t over yet, but we know what happened since. Bernie Sanders galvanized progressives who yearned for a new path and who had distaste for and distrust of Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump galvanized a completely other constituency of the distasteful and the distrustful. And so it goes.

Joe Biden is neutralized, so it is now safe for all Democrats to say how much he is loved, not just by Democrats, but by Republicans and the whole nation. And how capable, experienced and qualified he is. And how nobody is better at working across the political aisle.

The way he is being praised to the heavens by all, including Hillary Clinton supporters, you would think this was a new discovery. In fact, he was just as beloved, capable, experienced and qualified a couple of days ago. In fact, it was Republican Lindsey Graham who said three months ago, “He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in politics. He’s as good a man as God has ever created.”

The difference, of course, is that Joe Biden now poses no threat to Hillary Clinton. And therein lies some insight, not about Joe or Hillary, but about what people do not like about politics, certainly not the way it is played by some of our leading figures.

Politics may be a game, but when playing it involves hiding the truth about people, or delaying telling the truth about people because it is not politically expedient, something is wrong. It may be “right” electorally, but wrong by most other human measures. Good people and behavior should be lauded in a timely way, not so good people or behavior should be noted in a timely way.

When people are as constant and talented as Joe Biden, members of the Democratic Party, even if they supported someone else, shouldn’t have waited to celebrate that constancy—even it meant giving him his due. But they did wait until today. When it was safe.

Which is not only sad, but bodes ill for those who claim to be truth tellers and uniters of a clearly divided body politic. Because if you are afraid of someone beloved, capable, experienced and qualified, what exactly does that say about you?

Hillary Campaign Aims Preemptive Threats at Joe: We Will Allow You To Go Out With Respect and Esteem

From the New York Times:

This week, David Brock, who created the pro-Clinton group Correct the Record, which is coordinating with Mrs. Clinton’s campaign, told Chicago Magazine his “gut” told him Mr. Biden would not run because “he’ll realize that at this point in his career, he can go out with everyone’s respect and esteem.”

Only the most naïve would not recognize this as a threat. Choose not to run and you “can go out with everyone’s respect and esteem.” Choose to run and…well, we can’t be responsible for what might happen in the heat of an aggressive campaign.

This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who has paid attention to politics. Politics is hardball, and the Clintons play major league hardball. Just because Joe is one of the most beloved and sympathetic figures in current politics doesn’t give him immunity. From any attacks, including from a candidate who was bitterly denied her first shot at superstardom.

Ultimately this is what Joe’s still-pending decision is all about. Beau’s death is only one part of a bigger life picture. As for Hillary, the only thing more dangerous than a healthy behemoth is a wounded one. The circumstances of the Democratic nomination are far from as clear as they were just months ago. What is clear is the Clinton vow, this time, to win. High-minded, low-minded, pretty or ugly. If, as promised, it is going to get ugly, Joe must be asking himself whether he wants to be in the middle of it all. Or whether he’d rather enjoy his retirement, untouched by relentless and vicious attacks. Who can blame him, whatever he decides.

Still, as Americans, we don’t appreciate threats, political or otherwise. My guess is that Joe and his millions of supporters and admirers don’t appreciate it either.

Biden and Colbert

Whatever your politics, it was TV history last night on The Late Show. Joe Biden and Stephen Colbert talking, just two great guys leaning in and getting real, while millions watched, and many teared up.

It starts with Colbert. The question has been whether and how he would progress from being a character on The Colbert Report to a different character that is more himself. There was that moment on the final Daily Show when Colbert exposed his most sincere and unironic thanks to Jon Stewart, the man who gave him his chance.

But last night’s Late Show interview skipped all the midpoints of developing a Colbert talk show persona to transcending any idea of what a late-night host might be. Beyond showing himself as a man of faith, Colbert served almost as a therapist and priest. He didn’t stay away from the pain. He compassionately went right for it, not for spectacle, but for the healing truth, and to reveal the depths of Biden’s quandary.

Reflecting their shared history of family tragedy, it was like a reunion of two old souls. On top of that, Colbert wore not only his faith but his politics on his sleeve, something that just isn’t done in his position. It was clear that he was urging Biden to run not because it was a good idea, but because Colbert and the Nation needed him.

It doesn’t take much to get Biden to speak from his soul. Hello will usually do. But Colbert brought out an extra dimension of that. Where certain candidates now running make us cringe, Biden made me and plenty of others cry. Where certain candidates make us want to run the other direction, listening to Joe just made me want to be a better person.

In the moment, it didn’t matter that Colbert was in only the third show of his widely-covered new TV venture. Or that Biden was in the final weeks of the will-he-or-won’t-he candidacy drama. It just was what it was, and what it was was good and human, so humbly and nobly human. Something we don’t see much on TV. Or in politics.

Joe Biden and the Kennedys: Profiles in Service and Tragedy

Joe Biden

Thinking about Joe Biden’s decision on whether to run for the Democratic presidential nomination, the Kennedys come to mind. All the brothers.

Like the Kennedys, Biden is Irish-American, with a fanatical sense of public service and family. Like the Kennedys, he is a pragmatic liberal, maybe a bit to the left of that dynasty, but deeply aware of the obligation of those who have much to those who have much less.

(Speaking of the haves, unlike the Kennedys, Biden may be the least wealthy politician ever to emerge from decades of high-profile public service.)

Most of all, like the each of the Kennedy brothers, he has had to struggle with multiple tragedies, each one a reason to choose a different path, each one instead a reason to keep going—because of rather than in spite of.

Not a single person, no matter the party, no matter who they support, would begrudge Biden a decision not to run this time. But—unlike the position taken by those who say running might tarnish his legacy—he would crown his career by demonstrating the idea that what does not kill us can make us stronger, and can make us give more, even when so much has been taken.


Joe Biden

Let’s say you lined up all the presidential prospects from both parties. And just for the heck of it, let’s put Joe Biden in the lineup.

Now let’s rank them according to experience and knowledge in public service. Separate that from any partisan or ideological views—that is the wrong kind of experience and knowledge—Joe is going to stack up pretty well.

And now, let’s add the comments of Lindsey Graham a few days ago about Biden:

He’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in politics. He’s as good a man as God has ever created.

That’s Lindsey Graham, a seriously conservative Republican Senator and presidential candidate. And a longtime friend and Senate colleague of Biden’s.

Okay. So we now have an undeniably experienced person who one political opponent says is the nicest person in politics and the best man on earth.

And the problem with his being the Democratic candidate is exactly what?

The only thing that will stop the momentum for Joe running is his taking himself out of consideration. Which would be understandable in many ways. But which has not yet happened.

It would be clichéd to say that this is Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare, but it is. Last time she was ambushed by a young pipsqueak upstart who just happened to be everything she was not, including black. So her major trump cards were neutralized. Now she has much more leadership experience under her belt, thanks to that upstart, and the field has mostly cleared itself away for her.

But along comes the exact opposite obstacle. A man even older than she is. A face even more familiar in American politics than hers, by decades. A man who has twice failed to win the Democratic nomination.

And yet, his experience and acumen in government and retail politics can’t be denied. Neither can his progressive views and his forthright uncalculated candor, giving rise to some unscripted moments, but also bolstering his authenticity and the affectionate concept of “Joe being Joe.”

Above all, there are no Republican politicos, and maybe not that many Democrats either, who, with all due respect, might be heard to describe Hillary Clinton thus:

She’s the nicest person I’ve ever met in politics. She’s as good a woman as God has ever created.

So if Joe wants to run, then he should run. Because the presidential race, not to mention the country, might need him more than we know.

Obama Speech: Is It ISIS, ISIL or IS, and What is a True Religion?

Obama ISIS Speech

This is not a comprehensive review of last night’s speech by President Obama about ISIS/ISIL/IS. But if you asked me to join the millions of reviewers, descriptors that come to mind are lukewarm, vague, uninspiring, insufficiently informative, tactical (the speech, not the plan), and blah-blah-blah.

Here is one paragraph that stuck out, because it reflects two issues that may not get enough attention:

And one of those groups is ISIL — which calls itself the “Islamic State.”

Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not “Islamic.” No religion condones the killing of innocents. And the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim. And ISIL is certainly not a state. It was formerly al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq, and has taken advantage of sectarian strife and Syria’s civil war to gain territory on both sides of the Iraq-Syrian border. It is recognized by no government, nor by the people it subjugates. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple. And it has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.

What Is the Name of This Enterprise That We Are at War Against?

Is it ISIS, ISIL, or Islamic State? This is much more significant than whether the English transliteration of the name of the Egyptian President was Morsy, Morsi, or Mursi or the Libyan dictator was Gadhafi, Qaddafi, Kadafi, Gaddafi, or Gadafy. This is our new mortal enemy, and besides, all these IS names are in English.

Different nations and different news media have different approaches to this. The BBC, for example, has settled on Islamic State, apparently opting for whatever the organization chooses to call itself. What is totally strange about the “official” U.S. nomenclature is that at the highest levels, there is no consistency. The President prefers ISIL, while those in his cabinet regularly use ISIS.

One small matter about ISIL does deserve note. The full name is the Islamic State in Syria and the Levant. I challenge many in the administration, and many in Congress, and many in the media, to explain—without Google or cheat sheet—what the Levant is. For five hundred years or so it has described the land of the eastern Mediterranean, now roughly comprising Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and contiguous countries. The word comes from the French word for “rising”, as in the east where the sun rises. It isn’t much in use any more, outside of scholarly circles and, of course, in our latest war.

So please, President Obama, if you are gathering the support of dozens of nations and hundreds of millions of Americans, let’s all decide on what to call this organization that, in the words of Vice President Joe Biden, we will pursue to the Gates of Hell.

What is a True Religion?

“No religion condones the killing of innocents,” the President said. Without going into historic and contemporary detail, this is patently false. I believe the President knows better, but he didn’t want to get into a deep discussion, and instead just wanted to make a rhetorical flourish. If he doesn’t know, there are thousands of histories he can read and scholars he can consult, or even easier, news reports from the past few weeks, months, and years he can read.

If, however, he really did mean it, he has disqualified the majority of world religions from being classified as such. Which, by the way, plenty of critics of religion would applaud.

The President doesn’t have to be the Teacher in Chief, the Scholar in Chief, the Explainer in Chief, etc. Being Communicator in Chief is enough of a job, but if he just wants to say stuff for effect, without regard to its making sense or being true, we’ve already had plenty of that in years past, from those less smart or thoughtful than you. We get enough nonsense from many in Congress. Speak as if some of us are actually thinking about what you say. Because some of us are.

The Gates Book and the Gates Speeches

Former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates is about to release a memoir of his tenure under Presidents Bush and Obama. Provocative advance excerpts from Duty are now being released, and these explosive devices are anything but improvised.

Every news outlet, pundit and politician is already busy making points about President Obama, Vice President Biden, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others, based on comments clipped from these excerpts, rather than having read the whole book. Even out of context, it is clear that Gates has formed some definite opinions based on working for and with these American leaders. That is anyone’s privilege, but particularly that of a man who spent forty-five years in laudable public service, much of it at the highest levels of government.

As always, though, opinion and criticism is a matter of perspective, that is, where the critic stands underlies what a critic sees and says.

You can read all the speeches that Gates delivered as Secretary of Defense. This is guaranteed not to be as titillating as reading or hearing about the “best parts” of Duty, but it might give you additional insight that will make the context of the book clearer.

Here, for example, are excerpts from remarks he made to the Heritage Foundation on May 13, 2008, when he was serving under President George W. Bush. (You can read the entire speech here) At that point, the Iraq war was five years old, only halfway to its conclusion. At that point, he had been Secretary of Defense for two years, and from that point, he would remain in that position under President Obama until July 2011.

But there is a more fundamental point that I will close with – and again, historical perspective is important. It is impossible to separate discussions of the “broken” Army following Vietnam – a conscription army – from the ultimate result of that conflict. At a congressional hearing last year, General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, recounted the profound damage done to the Service’s “fiber and soul” by the reality of defeat in that war.

The risk of overextending the Army is real. But I believe the risk is far greater – to that institution, as well as to our country – if we were to fail in Iraq. That is the war we are in. That is the war we must win.

There it is, the context: Iraq was “the war we must win.” Gates’ insights into military matters is often brilliant and sensible, informed by his intelligence, experience and education. But on this point he candidly reveals a premise that for some colors everything else he offers. We must win Iraq because the failure to win would “break” the military the way that Vietnam did.

We did not win in Iraq, but technically, we did not lose. That current events in Iraq point to some devolution doesn’t really settle the question. That some U.S. Senators are calling for us to return to Iraq to avoid that loss or at least to avoid the appearance of futility is a partial reflection of exactly what Gates said.

We know that Gates’ personal critiques are based on close working relationships and observations. We also know, or should recognize, that those critiques are grounded in a worldview that others may not, very legitimately, share. If for Gates one of the measuring sticks is whether someone believes that Iraq had to be won, that measure may be skewed by genuine differences in informed opinion. One opinion is that as valorous as the service and sacrifice was, Iraq was a mistake, to be abandoned as prudently as possible; others might now say the same about Afghanistan. What Gates has to say about our leaders is certainly worth listening to, provided we pay equal attention to the mindset of the speaker.

Assault Weapons: The Art of the Art of the Possible

Bushmaster ACR
Watching Joe Biden back off the primacy of an assault weapons ban in the curbing of gun violence—following Senator Diane Feinstein’s introduction of exactly that legislation—is discouraging. And it brings to mind Picasso and Pollock, among others.

Politics is said to be the art of the possible. The motto is roughly “we fight the fights we can win.” Very pragmatic, and there is something to commend pragmatism. That won’t be much comfort, though, when well-meaning politicians have to show up at the next inevitable massacre and solemnly announce that they aimed at the possible, and even then settled for half.

Exactly what kind of art is politics?

Here’s a style of art, the kind everybody finds acceptable and can endorse. Who is going to argue about Rembrandt?

Rembrandt - Self Portrait
Then again, over time there were a number who wanted to argue about and with Rembrandt. By the time the twentieth century rolled around, artists wondered why they had to pay slavish homage to ideas that no longer suited the times. They determined that new ways were not only possible, but that they must be possible.

And so Picasso

Picasso - Les Demoiselles D'Avignon

and Jackson Pollock

Pollock - No. 5
Maybe every progressive politician who is wavering on support for an assault weapons ban needs to visit some museums with modern art; there are plenty in Washington. Then maybe they will discover what real courageous progress is. The possible is limited only by our imagination, spirit and will. That’s the real art.