I have been mad at Joe Biden for forever.
I’m the kind of person who remembers that he called Obama “articulate and clean” for a Black candidate, that he let Clarence Thomas escape during confirmation hearings, and that Biden bragged as recently as 2019 that white supremacists really liked him as a Senate colleague. In short: I am not now and have never been impressed.
But as the President launches his reelection campaign, I am here to tell you that we have to let him win.
We shouldn’t try to get fellow Democrats to rally for separate candidacies, or throw their weight behind token opposition. We shouldn’t call for debates or feel shortchanged by the political goliath that is incumbency. I don’t say that because I care about Joe Biden. It’s because I care about the Democratic Party.
Many of us youngins came to politics of our own volition. We were pulled into self-governance by the lure of a candidate or campaign that really spoke to us. We live and die on that candidate; we learn the nuances of campaigns from their survival or collapse; we figure out our own political priorities through following or volunteering or connecting with their candidacy. But we don’t learn any history.
So as someone raised in politics, let me throw some out at you. Because my support for Joe Biden’s campaign has nothing to do with Joe himself and everything to do with Ronald Reagan.
To start at the beginning: It is 1974 and Gerald Ford has just taken over as POTUS because Richard Nixon resigned. Ronald Reagan is the popular conservative governor of California (yeah), who has been encouraged to run for president before. He passed because, well, Nixon was an obvious winner. But in 1976, he takes his shot against incumbent Gerry Ford.
It’s a brutal primary. Even though Ford prevails, he’s badly damaged heading into November, especially with the unpopular Nixon pardon hanging around his neck. He loses to Jimmy Carter.
Four years later — after stagflation, an oil embargo, and a hostage crisis — Carter is the incumbent under fire. Ted Kennedy (yup) takes a shot at unseating him. There are a lot of problems with Ted Kennedy’s run (not least that he couldn’t answer why he was running), but the biggest might be how he hurt Carter in his ultimate race against the easily triumphant Ronald Reagan.
While the final results in 1980 look like an obvious blowout, it’s not entirely that simple. Reagan won just over half of the popular vote (50.7 percent), while Carter’s support fell out at 41 percent. It turns out that getting attacked from both sides is a super terrible way to rally voters. And while Reagan’s win might have been inevitable – what with the illegal coordination with foreign nationals to influence domestic politics (ahem) – Carter’s loss is still a textbook example of why you don’t attack incumbents.
So no, I don’t like Joe Biden and probably never will. I didn’t vote for him last primary season and definitely prefer the idea of an alternative. But I’m behind his reelection campaign 100%, no holds barred. Because I have learned from American political history, and I have no interest in repeating it.