I’m a resident in a medium-sized city in the great state of Iowa, home of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. As such, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to see, hear, and meet presidential candidates. Since I’m kind of a political junkie and there are literally dozens of semi- to extremely recognizable candidates running around Iowa, I’ve taken the time to attend a number of events.
Last Friday night was the Iowa Democratic Wing Ding, a fundraiser for county Democratic parties in northern Iowa. The Wing Ding has become one of the biggest political events of State Fair week, when all the candidates are making every appearance they can. This year’s Wing Ding attracted (I think) 22 candidates in person, plus one on video and a letter from Kevin Costner. Costner is not running (so far as I know), but hey, it’s Iowa and if you build it, they will come.
The Wing Ding is held at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, where Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) played their last gig and then flew off to the rock and roll hereafter. I’d like to talk about this remarkable venue, which now doubles as a rock and roll museum, and talk about the numerous noteworthy candidate speeches I heard there. That stuff will have to wait for another blog post.
We need to talk about Joe Biden, because Joe, I fear, has lost it.
Yes, I know that there are many Democrats of good conscience who think that Democrats shouldn’t criticize other Dems. To them, and with all due respect, too bad. I have plenty of good things to say about various Democrats running for our party’s nomination in 2020. They have good things to say about each other. Candidates criticizing one another is a tricky business and sometimes it backfires, but there’s really no avoiding it. Speaking no evil during the primary doesn’t work. Candidates have to draw distinctions and we need all the candidates to get vetted. The opposition will not be pulling any punches; our candidates need to learn how to box. We need to find out if they can take a punch.
Joe Biden was the last candidate to take the stage at the Wing Ding, which inexplicably ran ahead of schedule. And where but Iowa can you get more than twenty candidates to show up at a dinky town surrounded by corn and soybean fields to talk for only five minutes?
Well, Joe Biden didn’t talk for only five minutes, he talked for almost seven. It was a strange, meandering speech. Biden’s remarks, though apparently delivered from printed notes, were muddled, mangled and sometimes slurred. He stammered, stuttered and repeated himself.
Biden led off with an odd attempt at self-deprecating humor which also knocked the judgment of his audience. He ended with a yelling tirade about taking it back, whatever “it” is.
To take the boxing metaphor a step further, Joe Biden sounded a bit punch drunk and refused to allow himself to be saved by the bell.
For reference, and so you’ll know I’m not making this up, here’s video of the whole Wing Ding (posted by a Fox affiliate in Phoenix).
I found Biden’s remarks to be jarring and worrisome. Not only does Biden fail even to try to make a case for becoming the Democratic nominee, but he fails to consider any of the challenges facing the country other than Donald Trump’s presence in the White House. At the end of Biden’s speech, when he seemed to be trying to imitate the fiery delivery of one of the other candidates, he sounded almost to be calling for some kind of revolt — which, of course, he wasn’t. We know Joe Biden too well. But still, it was disturbing.
What follows in italics is my absolute best guess as to what Biden said last Friday night in Clear Lake — a word for word transcript, to the best of my ability. See if this sounds like someone who is seeking a major party nomination for the highest office in the land:
Folks, your patience exceeds your good judgment. The good news is I’m last.
Folks, uh, it’s great to be with you all tonight. You heard some, from great people tonight. People who, across the board… Folks, you heard from people who, um, who share one fundamental belief: that there is an existential threat if we, in fact, keep Donald Trump for president for four more years.
Now I, I’m, na-not saying it for applause, because, ladies and gentlemen, presidents, the words they say, matter. They can move markets. They can send women and men to war. They can make peace. They can inspire us to reach the moon. They can, uh, appeal to our better angels.
But, uh, they can also unleash the ugliest, most venal side of society. And, ladies and gentlemen, when Donald Trump has, since he’s become president, that’s exactly what he’s done. He’s unleashed — a constant battle has taken place in America from the beginning.
We have been here before. We’ve been here for before with the Ku Klux Klan after, after the, uh, Civil War. We’ve been here when three thousand Klansmen, in 1925, walked down the streets of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., wearing full garb, and when, in fact, their pointed hats and the like, and when there were over thirty members of the House who were declared Klan members. When, in fact, there were, I think, six or seven Senators who were open Klan members.
But ladies and gentlemen, you know, uh, we, uh, fought back. We fought back because we had people that, in fact, decided that that’s not who we are. There’s been a constant battle with us. The reason I’m telling you this is it’s not that we can’t overcome it, I want to make it clear we can overcome this, but we must.
You know, when you saw those people walking out of the fields in Charlottesville, their contorted faces, with anger, chanting the anti-Semitic bile that you, that they did, carrying Nazi flags, accompanied by white supremacists, as well as, as well as Ku Klux Klan.
The fact was that what happened then was David Duke talked about the President of the United States in terms of “This is what we wanted him to do. He said he’d return us to what we should be.”
We found a president who said at the time when asked, when that young woman was killed, “What about those two groups that clashed?” And he said what no president has ever said. He said, “There are some very fine people on both sides.” (a few boos) No, he did. This is, th-th-this is a reality.
And ladies and gentlemen, you know, Donald Trump offers no moral leadership. He has no interest unifying the country. There’s no evidence that the presidency has awakened his conscience in any conscious way. Instead he’s publicly and unapologetically embraced the political strategy of hate, racism and division. This is about more than any issue we can discuss today.
You’re going to get a chance to hear each of us discuss in detail where we stand and many of you al-already heard us do that. But, ladies and gentlemen, it’s up to all of us, three hundred and thirty million Americans who have to do, uh, what our president can’t: stand together; stand against hate. Stand up to, let’s call this what it is. This is white nationalism. This is white supremacy.
It’s not only our values that are under assault, everything that makes America America is under assault.
Look at his attacks on the free press. His attacks on the independent judiciary. A legislature that’s supposedly a co-equal branch of the government. These the-the-these are the guardrails that have decided, that we set up long ago, to contain the abuse of power.
And ladies and gentlemen, an American creed, the American creed has always been that we’re all created equal. That, th-th-th-that we hold these truths self evident. That we the people, in order to form a more perfect un… we’ve never lived up to them, we’ve never fully… but every single generation has moved that curve, as Barack says, closer to justice, further and further toward justice. (scattered applause)
But here’s the deal: every generation has done it. But ladies and gentlemen, the fact we never lived up to it, isn’t because we can’t do it. Every single generation has done it. And every — that’s why it’s never gotten, gathered dust in the history books, all that we stand for.
Folks, look, the fact of the matter is that Donald Trump doesn’t get it. He’s truly doesn’t understand what we’re all about. Four years of Donald Trump is gonna go down in history as an aberration in American history.
(At this point, music began playing to indicate that the speaker has reached the five minute mark.)
But eight years of Donald Trump will fundamentally change who we are as a nation. And ladies and gentlemen…
(Biden paused, looked up, the music continued and Biden resumed talking)
the core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very own sense of who we are, is at stake.
So folks, everybody knows who Donald Trump is. We’re gonna let him know who we are.
We choose truth over lies. We choose unity over division. We choose that we, in fact, are gonna stand for what we always have. Because if we do, if we do, we can take it all back tomorrow. And we must. Donald Trump is the existential threat. Nothing will happen — not a single thing can happen of what we care about — unless we defeat Donald Trump. So God bless you all and may God protect our troops. Let’s take it back. I refuse to wait any longer. (shouting)
Take it back now! This is America! The United States! There’s nothing beyond our capacity! So stand up, America! Take it back!