Someone needs to sit Joe Biden down and explain you cannot bro your way to the presidency

Michael Arceneaux

In an interview on MSNBC’s Morning Joe – which faithful viewers know is a de facto cheerleading squad for Joe Biden and his presidential campaign – the former vice president revealed this week that if President Trump mocks his age or questions his mental state in a presidential debate, he has his response ready. And before I reveal the response, let it be apparent to all reading that some of y’all’s “Uncle Joe” really thought he nailed his reply. Bless his heart.

“I’d say, ‘C’mon Donald, c’mon man. How many push-ups do you want to do here, pal?’” Biden answered. “I mean, jokingly. . . . C’mon, run with me, man.”

I won’t question Biden’s level of agility at this stage in life, but I will confirm that no matter how old he is, his ability to agitate remains in astoundingly good form.

The question was asked in reference to Biden’s lackluster performance at the first Democratic presidential primary debate, which featured Senator Kamala Harris directly challenging him on his citation of working with segregationists. Lest we forget, Biden and these men worked together on anti-bussing legislation, and the memory of that led Uncle Joe to talk nostalgically of a more “civil” period in the Senate.

In other words, whether or not Statler can do more push-ups than Waldorf is irrelevant to the matter at hand. If you are Joe Biden – someone who launched his campaign on the subtext that the current White House occupant’s bigotry is an aberration to the presidency – there is valid reason to wonder that if you are the best person to challenge Trump in a general election, given you struggle to understand why talking in a misty-eyed way about that “civil” era could be construed as incredibly offensive.

Instead, Biden wants to either jog it off or do more push-ups than the sitting president. As if Trump would even take such bait; if anything, he would kick Biden as soon as he hits the floor. C’mon man, indeed.

Someone ought to sit Joe Biden down and explain to him that you cannot bro your way to the presidency. Granted, he’s within his right to try, but is this really want any of us should be looking for in a presidential successor? Donald Trump is emblematic of most of America’s lasting sins – racism and sexism – restored to their traditionally high levels.

Joe Biden may not be the monster that Trump is, but is he the best answer to the cultural norms that allowed him to exist and fester until the stench became too unbearable for some to tolerate? Joe Biden, who apologizes for making women physically uncomfortable only to swiftly mock their expressed discomfort? Joe Biden, who takes weeks to apologize for speaking chummily about segregationists only to still make the black woman who called him on it the villain? Joe Biden, who thinks the best way to answer inquiries about his capabilities in light of that confrontation is to act like he’s the special guest star in an old episode of Saved By The Bell?

Alas, Joe Biden represents many things to people all the same. He is fortunate in that not only does he embody the traditional attributes associated with power – his whiteness, his maleness, his age – but he is associated with the singular example that differs from it.

In the recent Washington Post op-ed “We need someone who can lift us up again. Enter President Obama,” columnist Karen Tumulty recalled the words Barack Obama said as he accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 2008: “Tonight, I say to the people of America, to Democrats and Republicans and independents across this great land: Enough. This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive.”

Tumulty went on to write: “President Obama, what we need more than anything else right now is someone who can lift the country’s sights again.”

“Find your voice again. Reclaim your legacy. Do it now. It won’t wait until your memoirs.”

Tumulty’s words didn’t make me angry in the way they made others – though I do understand the frustration many rightfully have at the optics of a white person calling on a black man to deal with the racism seeping from the fingers and mouth of Donald Trump. I imagine her plea is well-intentioned. She, like many others, just wants to go back to “normal.”

But the normalcy that such people purport to seek is just the same false idea they’ve clung to all their lives – even sometimes Barack Obama himself. That lie says we are not a divided nation; instead, as Obama claimed in his career-turning speech in 2004, “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.” They can’t get this man back, but they can get the nice older white chap who stood by his side.

When I first heard those words out of Obama’s mouth, I knew they were good for him to utter but not true for my black ass to believe in. In fact, Biden himself referred to Obama as the first “clean” black candidate seeking the presidency in 2007 (he had less favorable things to say about Jesse Jackson in the 1980s.) He got on the ticket anyway, in part to help assuage the worries of a white electorate for reasons that ought to be apparent.

And the Obama-Biden administration did indeed do some good things: beyond any of our respective complaints about that period in history, most of us can appreciate the significance of what it meant. Still, we ought to be just as honest about what happened after: the election of the huckster who brags about sexual assault, routinely gets accused of ripping people off, and relishes in typing out tirades of overt racism – a man who gained political legitimacy only after questioning the legitimacy of the first black American president.

Trump may have been helped by the Russians, but he was boosted by an electorate not nearly as progressive as it would like to believe, along with racism that has long been institutional. Trump’s political genius has been grossly overstated, but what he does understand better than many is just how pervasive prejudice remains. The people waiting for Obama to save them are doing so in vain. So are the people who think they can get even a fraction of him back through Joe Biden.

Thus far, Joe Biden is showing himself to be a politician who thinks the performance of virility is more important than proving that even at the age of 76, he is capable of evolving. I don’t want a president who can do more push-ups than a bigot. I want someone who knows we need to leave that sort of thinking behind us already.