Terry H. Schwadron
Dec. 30, 2019
What’s with Joe Biden?
Don’t get me wrong: Biden is a much nicer person than Donald Trump, and he seems a whole lot more intelligent, aware and experienced. Also he thinks governing is more important than campaigning.
As Biden himself has been regularly telling us, his approach in running for president is basically as an antidote to Trump’s bruising insults as well as immoral and incorrect policies.
Biden, who has been standoff-ish about any issues smacking of, say, aggressive progressivism, remains the reputed overall Democratic front-running — though with the number of Democratic candidates hovering around the 20% mark, it is difficult to know what reputed front-runner status actually means.
But other than demanding that Democrats offer an alternative to Trump, voters in the pending primaries are also looking to shore up some kind of value statement about what America stands for — you know, fairness, diversity, the ability to distinguish allies from enemies.
There is a long list of ways in which Joe and the others can — and often do — can express these American values. But right at the top of the list is that we want to see a candidate who believes what he says, speaks frankly, and sticks by his verbal guns.
All of which brings us to the quandary that Biden left us with this weekend: He either would testify, or not show up, or shun or accept any subpoena were one to be issued by Senate Republicans looking for a way to deflect impeachment charges against Donald Trump.
A day after saying publicly that he would not appear if Republicans called him to testify, Biden tried twice to “clarify” his remarks by saying he would abide by any subpoena sent to him. Indeed, Biden seemed to return to the idea that there would be no legal basis for such a subpoena, and that he didn’t like even thinking about it because the whole idea is just taking attention away from the president’s own bad behavior.
Got it clear now?
Reporting in The New York Times said that “Biden’s 180-degree turn on whether he would comply with a subpoena was one of the starkest and swiftest reversals by a candidate in the Democratic primary campaign, and came after he faced questions and criticism about whether his initial stand would run counter to the rule of law.”
That was the theme that most reporting across a variety of publications took.
The guy who wants to present himself as forthright and standing for American values can’t make clear where he stands.
Of course, in real life as opposed to politicking in Iowa, there is no reason for Trump defenders to call Biden other than for spite and deflection. The idea here is that it is Biden — along with most European leaders — who held up military aid for internal Ukrainian politics five years ago as vice president, just as his son, Hunter, was being named for no apparent good business reason, to the board of a Ukrainian energy company.
Trump sees that not only as “corruption,” despite the fact that the case has been cleared of any Ukrainian criminal interest, but as justification for his own behavior in unleashing a months-long attempt to get new Ukrainian leadership to re-open the case to dirty up Biden.
Personally, I would prefer that the Senate call witnesses, just to get the likes of John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Rudy Giuliani to have to answer to Congress and to American voters for their parts in Trump’s rogue campaign for personal, partisan gain. But once the Senate were to open that door, the witness list would undoubtedly be extended to Biden, his son and, weirdly to me, to the whistleblower.
We would all have to go through the same kind of executive privilege claims that Republicans have been using, all in a never-ending dance to avoid Trump being nailed by his own people.
But what are they going to ask Biden? He readily says yes, he wanted the ouster of a chief prosecutor in Ukraine at the time who was widely seen among European allies as corrupt. And yes, Hunter landed a job most certainly because of his last name. But there seems little credible link between the two.
It’s hard for me to see how testimony here either further dirties Biden nor how it would “clear” Trump from a wholely separate series of events.
What I do care about is that at least the next president, or even would-be president, have a backbone and a sense of right and wrong that seems missing from the current occupant of the Oval Office.
It troubles me more than I find comfortable that Biden has not figured out a solid answer to a question that is totally expected and timely. If Biden wants to seem genuine to the countless number of Iowa voters, perhaps he should look up “genuine,” and just give a response that he has thought out and mastered.
For the record, I do agree with Biden’s belief on Twitter that, “I am just not going to pretend that there is any legal basis for Republican subpoenas for my testimony in the impeachment trial. That is the point I was making yesterday and I reiterate: this impeachment is about Trump’s conduct, not mine.”
Biden has decided he to call his current campaign swing the “No Malarkey” tour.
Maybe he should stick with offering no malarkey.