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New York Times
11 Feb 2023

NextImg:Opinion | Scranton Joe Is Ready to Go

WASHINGTON — Everyone is frantically hunting for clues about whether Joe Biden will run again.

His State of the Union speech was dissected for intimations. When he kept using the phrase “finish the job,” was that a hint?

Where is Daniel Craig’s “Knives Out” detective when we need him?

Asked about his decision in a Telemundo interview on Thursday, the 80-year-old president replied, “I’m just not ready to make it.”

When my colleagues Frank Bruni and Michelle Goldberg, and I write “Hey, Joe, Don’t Give It a Go” columns suggesting that he bow out on top, is the president listening and pondering what we say?

Nah. Guess what, political sleuths? It’s not really a Scooby-Doo mystery. No need to consult a soothsayer and tremble on the edge of your seats.

Joe Biden is running. And that’s no malarkey.

He has no intention of following Lear’s lead, “to shake all cares and business from our age/Conferring them on younger strengths, while we/Unburdened crawl toward death.”

In his vertiginous career, Biden has felt the sensation of power slipping away, and he didn’t like it. Let Lear howl at the moon; Joe wants to strut in the sun (with his shades).

I’ve spent my career studying Biden and other pols who are grasping for power, clinging to power, brandishing power and squandering power. And I can tell you this: Nobody likes to give up power. Donald Trump is the grotesque example: trying to overturn the government to keep his grip on it.

Congress and the Supreme Court are replete with candidates for early-bird dinners. Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a huge mistake by staying on the court until the end, bequeathing us Amy Coney Barrett and a reversal of Roe. Dianne Feinstein and Chuck Grassley, both 89, are still in the Senate.

Biden thought he could be president from the moment he hit town as a new senator in 1973. People debate now whether he’s too old to be president; but back then, he was too young to be a senator. He was 29 when he was elected, turning 30 and reaching eligibility shortly after the election.

The handsome young senator told Washingtonian magazine in 1974 that he understood why he was “a hot commodity”: his youth and his “tragic fate” — his wife and baby daughter were killed in a car crash shortly after his election. The magazine compared him to “Robert Redford’s Great Gatsby in natty pinstriped suits.”

“I know I can be a good president,” he said, adding, “My family still expects me to be there one of these days.”

The neophyte was very self-confident, while blithely conceding his flaws. “I’m not the kind of guy everyone likes,” he said. “My personality either grabs you or it doesn’t.”

His quest was a bumpy one. I wrote the stories about cribbing from Neil Kinnock and Robert Kennedy that helped knock Biden out of the 1988 race. I also wrote about his well-meaning but ham-handed performance during the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings.

But just when it seemed as though Biden’s best days were behind him, Barack Obama chose him for a running mate, seeking foreign policy experience. And in a well-meaning but clumsy move that actually turned out to be brilliant, Vice President Biden managed to bring President Obama and most of the country along to the idea of embracing gay marriage.

Obama shoved Biden aside for Hillary, which turned out to be a huge mistake that resulted in the execrable Trump. After being treated dismissively by the Obama team, Biden, Rocky-like, finally won the presidency, nearly half a century after he first talked about it.

After that slog, he’s not about to kiss it away because some polls and pundits fret about his age.

He thinks he’s doing great. There’s a spring in his step because he feels that he has outwitted the dimwitted Republicans. On Tuesday night, he made them look rude — with Marjorie Taylor Greene’s fur flying — and put them on the defensive. Republicans spent the whole week trying to get out from under his criticism that they always want to cut Social Security. But it’s a hard criticism to rebut because Republicans always want to cut Social Security.

Biden has gone bigger than Obama, who was supposed to be the transformational one. The president has pushed big job-creating bills and gone after Big Pharma and big corporations. (He has also gone smaller with some crowd-pleasers, like promising to get rid of junk fees on hotel bills.) Unlike Obama, who had an aversion to selling his policies, this guy loves a good groundbreaking.

In the State of the Union, the president began trying to reconnect his party to its blue-collar roots. Hillary thought she could win in 2016 with the new Democratic coalition of minorities, the elite and students. She refused to give a speech at Notre Dame and never bothered to go to Wisconsin.

Wisconsin was Biden’s first stop Wednesday in his post-State of the Union blitz. He remains unapologetically Scranton Joe.

So, we know, Joe. You’re in the race.

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