As an astute observer of present-day presidential politics, I’m baffled by the way presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is behaving.
The most immediate example, of course, is that he spent time Monday traveling to Texas to meet in person with the family of George Floyd. He was the black man killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, setting off nationwide protests over police brutality and racism.
What kind of modern-day leader shows empathy during a time of national crisis? If Biden had an ounce of presidential timber he would have been in a secure location, surrounded by armed guards and newly erected fencing, tweeting about his own “GREATNESS” and calling his political opponents “Crazy!”
Even worse, Biden has yet to tweet the words “LAW & ORDER” accompanied by no specific context or policy proposals. Donald Trump, our current president and the model for cutting-edge presidential behavior, has tweeted those words a dozen times in the past week. That, former Vice President Biden, is a thing we Americans have come to recognize as “leadership.” Maybe try it some time.
Indeed, while Biden spent time meeting privately with Floyd’s family before the 46-year-old man’s funeral in Texas on Monday, he failed to label Americans exercising their right to protest as “thugs” or “terrorists.” He didn’t attempt to paint people appalled by systemic racism as part of a shadowy group known as Antifa, which isn’t actually an organized group but sounds scary and is probably coming to destroy your family farm or rage-stomp your begonias.
Did the former vice president do anything to quell protests against the militarization of police, like suggest sending the military to police cities across the country? No.
Did Biden have peaceful protesters tear-gassed so he could walk across a street to a church he doesn’t attend and hold aloft a Bible he doesn’t read while people took pictures nobody wanted to see? No.
There’s no way Sleepy Joe would have the moral fortitude to pull off such statesmanship. In times like these, we need a leader unafraid to forcibly disperse Americans; appear uninvited outside a church whose bishop would later condemn him; and then have the White House press secretary equate his short, ignominious walk to Winston Churchill inspecting bomb-ravaged London during World War II.
Did Joe Biden voice support for the family of George Floyd and also share a video on his Twitter account featuring a conservative commentator saying, “Floyd was not a good person”? No, he didn’t. Only Trump did that.
Did one of Biden’s senior campaign advisers share a tweet praising a man in Texas who yelled a racial slur while threatening protesters with a chain saw? No.
Did Biden spend last week, arguably one of the most tumultuous and explosive weeks in recent American history, sending more than 460 tweets, including 200 in one day and, at one point, 74 in an hour? No, he didn’t.
And did the tweets he sent lash out at people in his own party—in Trump’s case, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mitt Romney—or widely respected military figures like former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis (“the world’s most overrated General”)?
No, Biden’s tweets were few in number and consisted of totally nonpresidential stuff like this: “We need to stand up as a nation—with the Black community and with all minority communities— and come together as one America. Because the pain is too immense for one community to bear alone.”
And this: “I promised George Floyd’s family that he wouldn’t just become another hashtag— and I intend to keep that promise.”
And this: “American history isn’t a fairytale with a guaranteed happy ending. But we have the power to write the future we want for this nation. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Yeesh. That’s some low-ratings material. If President Trump has taught us anything, it’s that true presidential behavior requires unbridled rage, schoolyard insults, a laserlike focus on one’s ego and a complete inability to inspire.
Even after Biden showed promise by saying something stupid and offensive—suggesting that if a black person votes for Trump, “you ain’t black”—the former vice president demonstrated enormous weakness by apologizing for the comment within hours, saying on a campaign call with black business leaders that he was “much too cavalier.”
Again, the Trump model is clear: Never apologize, never admit to doing or saying anything wrong, claim you never said something even if there’s a recording of it, blame someone else for saying something similar and then say something worse to change the subject.
Do you think Biden would have the guts, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, to talk about a positive jobs report and suggest Floyd is happily looking down from heaven, and then say, as Trump did: “This is a great day for him, it’s a great day for everybody.”
Heck, with Biden, Americans might go weeks without even thinking about who’s president.
Wouldn’t that be awful?
Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.