Joe Biden was in Seattle on Sunday night, ostensibly on a book tour to promote his new memoir Promise Me Dad. Actually, the event — which filled Benaroya Hall with enthusiastic, cheering, whooping Democrats across all age ranges — looked more to me like testing the waters for a presidential run in 2020.
Biden was interviewed in a casual, seated format by Melinda Gates — who, if you’ve only heard of her husband Bill Gates, would impress you immediately as one sharp woman and a very good interviewer. Maybe she should run for president. That said, like Michelle Obama in her post-FLOTUS life, I can’t imagine why Melinda would trade her current powerful spot at the Gates Foundation for the poisonous atmosphere of politics.
Biden ran for president in 1988, and didn’t generate much enthusiasm. He’s danced around running since then, but couldn’t muster enough support to get on the ballot. He’s 75, and clearly thinks that opposing Trump now is his big opportunity. People in the past have criticized Biden for being a gasbag and talking too much. He’s tried to correct that here, in his book tour appearances. He still tells a lot of stories, but they are more on point and don’t go on so long. He is known for being able to connect with working class America, but that wasn’t who showed up in Seattle on Sunday night. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the crowd, but I’m not sure it was for him. Every time President Obama was named, that got bigger cheers.
Toward the end, Biden responded to a question by Melinda Gates by getting up and giving an old-fashioned stem-winding stump speech. I thought it didn’t quite work, and wondered how the younger people in the audience received it. On the way out, I chatted with a small group of twenty-somethings, tech workers I suspect. They had fun at the event but wondered why Biden got “all weird at the end.”
That, my young friends, was a stump speech.
I hope Biden doesn’t run. He’s had a distinguished career, even if he never gets to be president. He’s a good and decent man. But he looks too old, sitting on stage with 53 year old Melinda Gates. He uses homespun stories about wisdom gained from supper at the kitchen table with his family growing up in Scranton — but young people don’t do that any more. I wish they did, but high powered successful two career couples with children have a different model of family time, and dinner every night at six is not a big part. And, his traditional stump speech — whose form I recognized — strikes younger voters as “weird”.
Don’t do it, Joe. Instead, help us find a younger Democrat who can run in 2020, someone like President Obama who seems to come out of nowhere and can take the big prize. Stump for that person. Raise money for him or her. But don’t run yourself. Save your dignity, and be the powerful respected party elder instead.