Opinion | Learning to Love Joe Biden


But you could argue that the biggest Biden/Trump contrast, the mother of all remedies, is his capacity for compassion, identification — the ability to make the connect, the very thing he’s been peddling from the start. Biden is the empath to Trump’s narcissist-shaped-by-a-sociopath. He would be the remedy for a nation bereft of jobs, of common kindness, of lives snapped away by a global pandemic. People are starving for sympathy right now.

Biden has spent much of his life reckoning with grief, having lost not just his elder son, Beau, but also his first wife and baby girl in a car accident some 48 years ago. He’s famous for giving out his cellphone number to those in mourning, and he nearly blurted it out to Anderson Cooper a few months back, offering to console those who’d lost someone to the coronavirus.

The night his older brother, Freddy, died in the hospital, Trump went to the movies.

When Biden finally did find a message that resonated with him in his first presidential campaign, it wasn’t his. It was that of Neil Kinnock, then the Labor Party leader in Britain. Biden was fond of quoting one of Kinnock’s political ads — with attribution at first. Then he forgot, which became pretty evident when he said his ancestors were coal miners. (They weren’t.)

But that was what was so interesting: The stolen parts of Kinnock’s speech were mainly biographical, not ideological, describing what it felt like to struggle as a working-class guy. They spoke to Biden. They made the connect. “That was his life: he was just a middle-class kid who’d got a little help along the way,” Cramer wrote.

This act of plagiarism — in combination with other discoveries of intellectual theft, some conscious and some not — cost Biden his candidacy. But in Cramer’s view, and in his gurus’ too, these reckless moments weren’t about a failure of imagination or moral recklessness. They were about Biden’s doglike desire to please, about that “death-defying-Evel-Knievel-eighty-miles-an-hour-over-twenty-five-buses leap he would make to get the connect.”

Even if it meant exaggerating, even if it meant stealing other people’s words (they resonated with him!) even if it meant (and this was prescient) putting his hands on an unsuspecting woman’s shoulders in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and keeping them there as he addressed the crowd, because she wouldn’t face him when he spoke. (“The woman looked like she’d swallowed her tongue,” Cramer wrote. Well, yeah. Only in the last year or two was Biden forced to reckon with this behavior, and he vowed to change his ways.)

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