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Joe Biden: Democratic victor promising a return to normal

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden

Joe Biden, who spent most of his life serving in Washington as a Democratic senator and then vice president under Barack Obama, will finally find himself atop the highest point in the capital city as president.

At the age of 77, Biden, a one-time lawyer, pitched himself during the campaign as a moderate “everyman” who can relate to the problems working people are facing, while embracing some progressive ideas, like tackling climate change and improving health care.

He took a relatively low-key approach to campaigning, in part due to the pandemic, but often, it seemed, he was letting President Donald Trump seize the spotlight, making the election a referendum on an incumbent who often talked himself into trouble.

Biden, who studiously avoided radical politics during the months of campaigning, has denounced Trump as a chaos agent and much of his outreach to voters has been centred on a pledge to return to a better and calmer version of life pre-Trump.

His election victory, narrowly eked out through wins in key swing states, comes after two failed presidential campaigns in 1988 and 2008, with multiple family tragedies at times upending Biden’s life and political plans.
The septuagenarian is ever more grey and his speech is showing some signs of slowing, but he will soon be in the driving seat of the US, with decades of experience behind him.

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Biden was the long-serving senator from Delaware – having first won the seat at the age of 29 – before being tapped as vice president to provide a seasoned Washington perspective to Barack Obama who won the White House in 2008 as a relative newcomer to national politics.

Biden was then viewed as someone pragmatic who would bring on board white working-class voters, and was sought after for his foreign policy bona fides.

His time on Capitol Hill was also valued by the Obama team, as legislative deal-making is a delicate dance that trips up novices and can rattle presidencies.

He is religious, but moderate; liberal, but not overly so. Biden capitalized on this in the election as he played for the centre ground, while holding his left-flank and even bringing on board disenfranchised Republicans.

In 1987, Biden’s hope to become president ended swiftly, when he was rather credibly accused of plagiarizing a speech during a primary campaign. In 2008, his remark that Obama was not yet ready to be president came back to haunt him during the election.

In 2016, though, he chose not to run after eight years as vice president, after his son died of cancer and he decided to spend time with his grandchildren.

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It was the latest personal setback for Biden. His first wife and a daughter died in a car accident in 1972. His sons were badly injured. He nevertheless took his Senate seat but travelled back and forth each day from his home in Delaware to Washington, so he could see his two boys each night.

His use of the train became something of a legend and added to Biden’s popularity. It was still employed by his 2020 campaign – along with his famous love of ice cream – to market Biden as relatable and understanding of blue-collar workers.

A number of times in recent months, Biden has been forced to walk back remarks made in interviews – such as when he suggested that if an African-American voted for Trump they were not truly black.

However, supporters have long accepted Biden’s propensity for gaffes and focused more on substance. The coalition Biden has put together has effectively, and maybe begrudgingly, accepted the accusations of “handsiness” toward women that have plagued Biden and for which he has never fully apologized.

His past also includes a crime bill viewed by progressives as having contributed to spiking incarceration rates, and chairing the contentious Anita Hill testimony on sexual harassment – a moment in Congress now seen in a poor light by liberals.

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Similarly, his support for the war in Iraq, trade deals that Trump railed against and indications he would move away from fossil fuel reliance did not taint his campaign.

Biden has admitted he made mistakes with regards to his approach to carceral policy and has promised reforms and also indicated he will be tougher on trade relations with China.

But Biden’s main promise is that he will not be a brash and uncompromising politician prone to rants on Twitter, like Trump, but someone who will restore American politics to a state of civility.

For example, on the coronavirus, Biden is at pains to wear a mask in public and pledges to defer to scientists, as opposed to the current president who is rarely seen with facial coverings and often gets into arguments with his top public health officials.

As his running mate, in an era where the country has been gripped by the issue of social justice reform, Biden has chosen another senator, Kamala Harris of California, who would be the first ever woman, and black person, to be vice president.

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