Thanks to Watergate, the character of a president – or any politician, really – has become a significant factor in who gets elected. But should it be so? Well, where Trump is concerned, of course! As Slate’s Lili Loofbourow wrote: “Trump has bottomed out the curve.” But now that Biden is running for president again, it’s time to close the book on character once and for all. Well, when we’re talking about Joe Biden, anyway.
Election Day is coming. It’s probably safe to assume that’s what this story is all about. The End of Character Politics comes across as a weak attempt to build up Biden as an upstanding man of character who just wants to be a good guy. Sure, he has his flaws – who doesn’t? It isn’t Biden who plays the villain in this story, though his sins are granted some cursory review. It isn’t even Trump, bad as he is, for he plays a mere minor role. The big bad here is the idea of character itself; it just doesn’t belong in politics anymore, and maybe it never did.
Introduction: The problem of Character
“Once a person’s private conduct was perceived to impinge on their ability to do their public work, the onus fell on the public to decide what to do about revelations of this sort—in particular, whether they rendered the candidate unfit for public service. Many of us have spent decades being overexposed to the ubiquitous personal shortcomings of politicians. The idea was that we, the judicious public, deserved to know all the facts, ingest the filth, and metabolize it into a sound and democratic electoral result. But it has been a messy change. It’s not just that media organizations are neither consistent nor clear about which scandals are newsworthy; the problem is that we, the members of that vaunted public square, have not been able to reconcile these ugly exposures with the American ideals democracy theoretically serves. And so Americans have been heading, for some time, toward something like moral burnout.”
Is it so unreasonable to consider the character of the man or woman running for office? These people are granted a special authority to decide how our society functions. Does their character mean nothing? Note there was no “moral burnout” article from the left arguing that maybe, just maybe, a guy’s personal life wasn’t any of our business before Joe Biden became the last hope for taking down Trump.
But let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that a leader’s personal behavior is no concern of the public’s. Wouldn’t you rather hear Joe Biden’s hero’s journey through the era of character assassination and – should he win in November – how he single-handedly will have ended that age?
Chapter 1: The Great Injustice
It all began in 1987. Biden wasn’t the only politician to come out one day and see all his dirty laundry airing out on the line, but he was the most important. You know, because he’s running for president now. It was he who languished as the “unexpected casualty” of the media’s new war on the character of politicians. “ Biden was already middle-aged—44!—when he first experienced this newfangled backlash to his past failings,” Loofbourow explained. How dare these media hacks dredge up Joe’s past to sell some headlines? Those were the sins of a foolish youth – not the man of integrity he had become. Still, Biden was forced to withdraw over the exposure of his past. His lies at the time had nothing to do with it, of course.
Now, 33 years later – if we ignore Biden’s second attempt, as the Slate author did – Biden is faced yet again with concerns over character. But who can say what is good or bad anymore? As Loofbourow pointed out: “Trump has badly distorted – perhaps beyond recognition – our ability to properly judge the issue of moral personal behavior in American politics.”
“Trump and Biden, who have both been public figures for decades, have each weathered the character question by rejecting its premises. But they’ve done so in different ways. Trump has flouted ethical prescriptions both publicly and privately,” Loofbourow explained. “Biden, by contrast, has long battled from inside the crosshairs of the character crisis, as both administrator and subject.”
His flaws are many, the writer admits, from the ones that cost him in 1987 to the handsiness and strange lies of today:
“But on this front, as with so many, Trump has bottomed out the curve. Biden’s ethical infractions exist, but he still responds to at least a few external standards besides his naked self-interest. He wants to be considered a good and decent man by people of all political persuasions, Republicans included.”
But Biden’s character problems aren’t just minor. The Tara Reade accusations – while the author tries to brush them aside by attacking her credibility – are significant. The plagiarism, which the author calls slight, was, in fact, the lifting of another man’s entire life story. And they aren’t all old news, either. His creepy behavior with women continues today, as do the strange and apparently pointless lies and the violent outbursts when he feels threatened by the truth or just good sense.
Joe Biden is a man who has struggled to keep character out of politics – yet when he officially announced his 2020 run, he made it entirely about getting rid of Trump because Trump’s a bad guy.
Epilogue: The End? We Sure Hope So!
Biden’s flaws are there, in the open for all to see. This is the mark of his excellent character – of his desire to be a good person, the author insinuates. And here I thought it was because he just wasn’t smart enough to keep up with all his lies. But if this flawed hero can only overcome his real enemy in November – if he can show that a good, bad guy can triumph over a bad, bad guy – he can forever close the book on character politics.
That’s not precisely how Loofbourow words it, of course, but that is the idea with which she ends her article. But if anything, character politics – and the practice of fabricating stories for personal attacks against political opponents – seems to be reaching new heights rather than waning. No one was calling Biden “literally Hitler” back in 1987, or even today, for that matter. It is the self-same Democrats, and other leftists who say Biden’s past shouldn’t matter now that still call Trump “President Bone Spurs” and talk about his improprieties of the past. It is they who attempt to destroy the Donald by calling him sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, and whatever other “ist” or “phobic” label they can dream up.
You don’t get to lob such attacks against Donald Trump and then say character doesn’t belong in politics so you can prop up Joe Biden as some Democratic Messiah come to save us from the Evil Orange One. Naturally, Trump fans are hoping Biden won’t just lose in November – he’ll retire entirely from politics. That might be their perfect ending.
Read more from James Fite.