As readers of this website may know, I have been trying to figure out how the Democrats turned out more than 81 million voters in an election when they couldn’t run any kind of ground game at all. This nearly 30% increase in new voters is a remarkable event and I still can’t find anyone (other than me) who seems interested in trying to figure it out.
But perhaps a clue can be found in a new book by our friend Evan Osnos, Joe Biden, The Run, and What Matters Now. The brief book, which is exceptionally readable, was evidently written during the closing months of the campaign and is an adaption of stories which appeared in The New Yorker Magazine from 2011 through last year.
Note the book’s final sentence: “But, for a people in mourning, he might offer something like solace, a language of healing.” Which is exactly what Joe offered both in his inaugural speech and in other comments he has made over the last several weeks.
One thing we surely know about Joe Biden. He’s someone who has experienced the deepest and most mournful experiences of all. Just as his Senate career began, he lost his wife and his daughter who died without warning – a loss for which he had no time to prepare or understand. Then he buried his older son who was considered to be the Biden who might some day wind up behind the Resolute desk.
I am beginning to believe that the 2020 election may have turned on just one issue and one issue alone, namely, that voters liked Biden and didn’t like Trump. And because they didn’t like Trump, they really didn’t like Trump, they didn’t want him around for another four years.
Try as they might, and Evan covers this issue very well, the GOP just couldn’t pin any issue on Joe that would have made Democrats stay home. Joe wasn’t and isn’t a ‘socialist,’ he’s not an influence-peddler or a ‘tax and spend’ kind of guy. In the age of media technology and electronic communication, he’s what politicians used to be – a guy who enjoys coming right up to people, grasping their hands, and saying ‘hello.’ Which is the one thing that a germaphobe like Trump hates to do.
Osnos makes the point that Trump had nearly 120 million Twitter and Facebook followers whereas Joe had less than 10 million at the beginning of the 2020 campaign. However, he got his message out there, Joe didn’t do it the way it was done by Trump. He did it by reminding people that he’s just like them. When he announced a major financial rescue for families from the effects of the pandemic, he made sure to tell the audience that, “I was a single parent once.”
How did the Trump campaign react to this bit of personal detail injected into a policy speech? They said the plan would ‘remake America with socialist policies.’ Like anyone under the age of 40 even knows what the word ‘socialism’ means.
Back during the worst days after Katrina, when people were standing on the roofs of their houses with nothing to eat, Rush Limbaugh said probably the dumbest he ever said when he told his audience that the crisis in New Orleans would be more solved when the government got out of the way and let private organizations, particularly religious charities, come in and set up shop.
There’s a reason why Democrats win elections when we suffer some kind of wholesale collapse. If have spent the last 40 years saying that government’s your enemy, not your friend, the last thing you’re going to do is convince people that you should be trusted to fix a problem that ‘big government’ didn’t create.
Osnos makes a compelling argument about the degree to which Biden’s temperament, experience, personal history, and political judgements made him a winning candidate during an unprecedented period of anxiety and distress.
For all I know, the pandemic may have brought us back to understanding that personal, not digital connections is what politics is really all about.