Joe Biden & the Viral Center

It speaks to the presence of mind demanded of America’s highest political office that, were Joseph R. Biden Jr. to be elected president this November, he wouldn’t stand as the first commander-in-chief to occupy the White House in the midst of a poorly concealed cognitive decline. In 1994, when Ronald Reagan announced that he’d been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, his public statement arrived more than a decade after speculation about his impaired mental state first surfaced. Sparked, in 1984, by the then-president’s verbal lapses and confusion during a televised debate against Walter Mondale, these suspicions had by Reagan’s second term percolated deep enough into mainstream political discourse that The New Republic ran a cover story matter-of-factly asking, “Is Reagan Senile?” Reagan was 76 when that article was published, his presidency nearer to its end than his inauguration. Joe Biden will be 77 years old on Election Day 2020, when he will seek to earn a first term by unseating Donald Trump, the incumbent president whose psychological profile and mental faculties have similarly been a point of constant, fruitless fascination for the media. Much of that armchair analysis of Trump’s brain presupposed that he’d face a Democratic opponent who wasn’t also potentially demented, which now places voters in an unfortunate but not unexpected bind. Conditioned to choose between the lesser of two evils, Americans staring down a global pandemic and economic depression can at least take solace in the novelty of selecting, for president, between the lesser of two dementias.

Less than 24 hours removed from the suspension of Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic nomination, the anticlimax of Biden’s victory already sounds the silent alarm of history’s most ruinous, avoidable catastrophes. Even relative to the surety of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 primary run against Sanders, when she collected 523 party “endorsement points” to the Vermont senator’s 13, Biden’s triumph feels inevitable, since the same centrist political machinations that secured the nomination for Clinton were, at least for a time, working to undermine Biden. The Democratic National Committee, chaired by former Obama Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, unsubtly explored every available alternative to Biden before reluctantly closing ranks around him just before Super Tuesday, when Sanders threatened to take a commanding lead in the delegate count. Months before the Iowa Caucuses, whose tallies the DNC famously, characteristically botched, each accelerated media cycle trotted forth another ineffectual, rebooted Obama to galvanize the vital center and put Sanders’s progressivism in its rightful, marginal place. And so voters were subjected to the milquetoast platitudes of Beto O’Rourke (White Obama), Cory Booker (Dumb Obama), Kamala Harris (Female Obama), Pete Buttigeig (Gay Obama), and Amy Klobuchar (Mean Obama), all of whom later endorsed Biden and now seem poised to occupy various chambers in a presidential cabinet that will probably never exist. (Elizabeth Warren [Plans Obama] is still making up her mind.) Aside from a Sanders nomination, a Biden candidacy was the worst-case scenario for the DNC. Like the global pandemic that will remain in the collective memory long after this primary season is forgotten, Joe Biden–that viral deathless dying–simply refused to go away.

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The coronavirus outbreak thus serves as the perfect, macabre backdrop for the Democrats’ coronation of Biden, a rich man securely locked in his mansion as a pandemic sweeps across the country, predominantly killing the poor and the elderly. With July’s planned Democratic National Convention pushed back to August (if it happens at all), Biden’s win constitutes the natural conclusion of a primary campaign that confounded many, inspired few, and offered nothing aside from a gestured-at return to an irrecoverable “normal”–the nomination will happen nowhere, a nonevent attended by no one. Older Democratic voters, who backed Biden in an overwhelming majority, will fall asleep after failing to tune into the DNC’s laggy live stream, while their grandchildren dig the doomsday bunkers necessary to survive the next pandemic, the ravishes of climate change, and the Second Great Depression. There is often talk of how the United States is a sham democracy, how a nation of equal opportunity has been gerrymandered and lobbied into a minoritarian oligarchy, but Joe Biden definitively represents the fractional amount, rarely more than 30%, of voters, who turn out for primaries. He is old and forgetful, either confused or deluded about the central role he played in the same structural problems he incoherently rambles about solving. Less than four years’ removed from the voting public’s rejection of a flawed, bland centrist, the Democrats have nominated a candidate no less flawed and even more uninspiring. It’s insane, illogical, comprehensible solely to madmen. A sane adult might begin to think that the Democratic Party, like Biden, has completely lost its mind.

The truth of the matter is far more frightening than a nationwide brain softening: the Democrats don’t care if they lose. From House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Age: 80, Net Worth: $34-$116 million) on down, a second Trump term foretells a reality much less frightening and far more profitable than a first Sanders one, specifically for older, well-off Democrats. Like Pelosi, these voters will bemoan Trump’s tweets and tactics publicly but pocket the extra money from his tax cuts silently, gladly. They will criticize Trump for throwing migrant children in the cages that the Obama administration built, call Trump an Islamophobe after Obama dropped untold extrajudicial drone strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq. In most respects, Joe Biden defeating Trump would be a detriment to these so-called Resistance Democrats and their enablers, the consultants drafting the former Vice President’s tweets and the PR flacks recording his time-limited guest appearances on The View. With Trump in office, these Democrats can secure their seats just by feigning aggravation, any lack of results reflexively chalked up to Trump-emboldened Republican obstinacy. Biden winning would mean the Democrats may actually have to govern, and nothing would be normal about that.


Really, though, this brand of Democrat and party operative doesn’t care either way about the elections in November, or the death tolls from the coronavirus. Their credentialed jobs and tasteful homes will be there no matter the national levels of poverty or unemployment, in markets bull and bear. Joe Biden’s carcass was gurneyed over the finish line by these older suburbanites and those self-interested enough to think like them. We should note, then, that a wealthy suburb in 2020 looks much the same as it did in 2016, which is pretty much how it looked in 1986, when Reagan was president. The status quo that Joe Biden is striving to reanimate has been there, always, a spirit virus sickening our political parties but never letting them die. It’s with you in self-isolation, in quarantine, wherever you’re reading this. It’s watching you right now, with its single, blood-red eye.