Hours before “The Late Show with Steven Colbert” aired the host’s interview with Vice President Joe Biden, social media started buzzing. The New York Times wrote something about the upcoming interview, and parts were leaked. Pretty quickly, Biden’s interview became must-see television.
I watched and, yes, I was moved. Not because I wanted Biden to throw his hat into the Election 2016 ring. And not because I’m some bleeding-heart liberal who fantasizes about Biden (my political views are for another time). It’s because Biden was refreshing. He spoke with candor. He teared up. He felt true. Even in a heavily edited interview segment. Even then.
It had me thinking about why millennials started clamoring for a Biden candidacy after this interview. And now that Biden has officially bowed out of any races, rumored or otherwise, it’s even more crystal clear than before.
Biden represents, to quite a few millennials, the idealized version of an honest person. He was an odd running mate for President Obama – a senator from Delaware, the second-smallest state in the union. So we millennials started learning about Biden as he and Obama plowed through the election season.
We learned he was an Irish Catholic kid born in Scranton, Pa., but moved to Delaware and fell into a working-class lifestyle with his parents and three siblings. He was interested in politics at an early age and worked his way into local politics, then upset an incumbent Republican in the Senate election in 1972.
We also learned Biden lost his wife and daughter in a car accident that very year, that he commuted every day on Amtrak to take care of his kids, that he remarried, ran for president twice and, finally, was given the opportunity to be vice president.
And after having Biden at our side for eight years, we know he’s a blue-collar type, a straight shooter, not very rich, and has the ability to say things he shouldn’t say. But he toes the line of offensiveness, somehow remaining good-hearted and pure, almost because of his background.
This is a quality plenty of municipal politicians, and especially Irish Catholic politicians, seem to carry in spades. They’re with the people, they claim, and can talk tough and do “dirty work.” The worst politicians are jailed for corrupting despite this talk, and the slightly better basically stay in municipal politics forever. But the best of them seem to carry a sense of greater good – or they’re filthy rich – and find their way into national politics.
Biden is, seemingly, the former: a good guy who can talk straight and deliver on promises. There’s someone like him running for president, only that instead of being concerned with a greater good, he’s filthy rich: Donald Trump.
It’s interesting to note the reasons people endorse Trump. The common line is “He’s a change of pace.” Or “he’ll clean up dirty politics-as-usual.” Or “he speaks his mind and doesn’t lie to us.” And that’s the similarity between Trump and Biden – their supporters love them because they seem completely honest, unafraid to speak their mind, even if it could puncture their credibility. Of course, we don’t know any of the real truth, but in politics especially, perception is everything. Biden and Trump are well perceived by their fans.
Biden’s fans are the millennial Democrats who see shadows around Hillary Clinton. They can tell she isn’t making real promises. They can tell she is carefully choosing every word and phrase, counting every step she takes on some gilded path to the White House. And Biden’s fans are those who see candidate Bernie Sanders as an inflating balloon, the kind of candidate that comes along once every 12 years because it’s necessary – because we need someone to tell us how much we’ve screwed up – but ultimately, will pop, because ultimately, they always do.
Biden seems more honest than Clinton, and he seems more presidential than Sanders. And when he speaks about losing his son, and embracing his faith, and staying grateful for life, family and friends despite the hardships – it’s a beautiful truth. Even more beautiful is, during that Colbert interview, Biden himself questions why his pain is any more important than the pain of millions of people … not millions of Americans in the middle class fighting for good jobs … not millions of Americans tired of politics-as-usual. These aren’t talking points to Biden. He’s simply talking about the millions of people who suffer more pain than he, because he has had success, because he was born of privilege, because he is who he is.
That’s the kind of presidential candidate millennial Democrats want, and really, it’s the type of candidate millennial Republicans want, too. Politics aside, millennials just want someone who’s not giving a talking point every 10 seconds, who’s not complaining about having enough time to talk, who’s not using every story to twist a policy platform down our throats on social media.
Maybe a few millennials in politics will learn from the perceived honesty of Joe Biden, and maybe they’ll turn it into their own honesty, which can still be clean, which can still triumph in a better America.