Running for president is a lousy form of therapy. And if Joe Biden thinks a presidential campaign would heal either him or his family, he is kidding himself.
Campaigns are meat grinders. They crush; they do not mend.
Ever since his son Beau died from brain cancer May 30 at age 46, Biden has struggled over what to do about running for president again. (He tried and failed in both 1988 and 2008 but became Barack Obama’s vice president in 2009.)
In August, Maureen Dowd wrote a column describing an incredible scene with Beau, who, knowing he was dying and barely able to speak, tried to make his father promise to run for president again, “arguing that the White House should not revert to the Clintons and that the country would be better off with Biden values.”
On Tuesday, Politico‘s Edward-Isaac Dovere revealed that the scene with Beau was leaked by Joe. Dovere says the leak “effectively placed an ad in The New York Times” kick-starting speculation about a Biden-for-president campaign.
Ever since then, the story has resembled a papal succession, with reporters figuratively watching the chimney atop the Naval Observatory, where the Bidens live, waiting for black smoke signaling no decision or white smoke signaling a final decision.
According to Dovere, sources “say Biden has thought that, perhaps, a presidential campaign is exactly what the family needs to find new purpose and a sense of renewal.”
I hope Biden finds a better reason than that. It is unlikely a presidential race would provide him or his family with either a new purpose or renewal.
It more likely would provide what presidential campaigns always provide: a circus. And this particular circus would feature drive-by shootings from the Republican clown car and the big guns on the USS Hillary taking deadly aim at Biden.
Hillary Clinton is not going to let herself get robbed again. That is how she views it. She was robbed from her historic role of becoming America’s first female president by a guy who trumped her to become America’s first black president in the 2008 election.
And now she’s not going to let another man — who is not even black! — cheat her out of what she believes is rightfully hers.
Biden is no shrinking violet. He gives as good as he gets. And he knows he would have to fend off not only Clinton but also Bernie Sanders — which is why Biden said in New York a few days ago: “I’m not a populist. But I’m a realist.”
Biden is still also the grieving father who doesn’t want to deal with politics. As we all know, human beings can play multiple roles simultaneously, even when the roles conflict.
On his appearance last month on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Biden barely could keep himself together at times.
“I find myself — you understand, just sometimes it just sort of overwhelms you and I can’t…,” he said, his voice fading away.
But there was also the other Joe: “You got to get up,” he said. “And I’d feel like I was letting down Beau, letting down my parents, letting down my family if I didn’t just get up. … I marvel at the ability of people to absorb hurt and just get back up.”
Biden also spoke of the solace he finds in going to church.
“I go to Mass, and I’m able to be just alone, even in a crowd,” Biden said.
Which is genuinely wonderful. But it is nothing like presidential campaigning. On a presidential campaign, you are never alone. Someone is always yammering in your ear. There are policies to set, strategies to carry out, donors to schmooze, the press to fend off, staff bickering to settle and the other candidates to combat.
It is not solitude. It is not therapy. A presidential race often breaks you down; it rarely builds you up.
Biden must choose his path, and soon. With each passing day, with each new story, Biden’s hesitation looks more like political calculation and less like grief.
Paul Kane and Dan Balz of The Washington Post recently cited an interview that Biden gave to a Jesuit magazine in late September that did not receive a lot of attention.
Biden recalled to the magazine his father’s admonition to “just get up” when life knocked him down.
“That’s what Beau wants us to do. That’s what Beau expects his father to do,” Biden said. “So we’re just getting up and moving on.”
And yet. There always seems to be an “and yet” when Biden speaks.
Biden also said: “It’s not quite there yet, and it may not get there in time to make it feasible to be able to run and succeed because there are certain windows that will close. But if that’s it, that’s it. It’s not like I can rush it.”
Me, I’d tell Biden this:
Don’t run for Beau. Don’t run for your family. Don’t run for yourself. Don’t run for your therapy.
Run for America. And if you can’t do that, don’t run at all.
Roger Simon is Politico‘s chief political columnist. His new e-book, Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America, can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes. To find out more about Roger Simon and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (C) stands behind reporters as President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon make statements after their meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, D.C., United States August 4, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst