Monday, January 22, 2018

Joe Biden is charming but positions himself in an odd way

This video excerpt of Joe Biden provides a good example of how the Democrats too often come off as smug and dismissive of their own base, To millennials who think they have it tough: ‘Give me a break,’ Biden says Los Angeles Times (n/d; video of a 01/10/2018).

The headline is misleading, but that's part of the problem. Biden makes himself too easy to quote out of context. That said, it's not entirely misleading.

The point he's actually making (I think!) is to use the examples of the antiwar, civil rights and women's movements of the Sixties to encourage young people to get engaged with politics and public service and not fall into cynicism, apathy and passive conservatism.

But, gosh, he manages to garble the message:
And we were told drop out, go out to Haight-Ashbury [pronouncing it "Azbury"], get engaged. Y'know, shortly after I graduated '68, Kent State, 17 kids shot dead. And so, the younger generation now tells me how tough things are. Give me a break! No, no, I have no empathy for it. Give me a break!

Because here's the deal, guys, we decided we were gonna change the world. And we did. We did. We finished the civil rights movement to the first stage. The women's movement came into being. So my message is, get involved, there's no place to hide. You can go out and you can make all the money in the world. But you can't build a wall high enough to keep the pollution out. You can't live where your - you can't not be diminished when your sister can't marry the man or woman, or the woman, she loves. You can't, when you have a good friend being profiled, you can't escape this stuff.
Still, even for those of us who find Biden's ditsy-uncle moments kind of lovable, it's still kind of jarring to hear him say, "the younger generation now tells me how tough things are. Give me a break! No, no, I have no empathy for it. Give me a break!"

It sounds pretty seriously out of touch. People who were 21 in 1968 were living in a world where there were still many unionized workers without college degrees who had relatively secure jobs with health insurance and a pension plan that paid enough for a single earner to be able to afford a house and at least one car for a family and send their kids to a good state university.

Today's 21-year-olds are facing an economy of McJobs in which most have no immediate shot at all to "make all the money in the world." The term "precariat" is a good one for those who must rely on precarious employment and multiple jobs and still won't be able to afford to buy a house in the foreseeable future. And pensions? Please.

The pressure is greater than ever to get a college education; neoliberal boosters say you're responsible for building your own personal "portfolio" of skills and experience. But for many, getting that education means taking on a serious load of student debt that will place limitations on their finances and their choices in life for years if not decades. And, thanks to legislation that Biden supported in the Senate, they can't even get it reduced if they go into bankruptcy (David Sirota and Matthew Cunningham, Joe Biden Backed Bills To Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student Debt IBT 09/15/2015):
As a senator from Delaware -- a corporate tax haven where the financial industry is one of the state’s largest employers -- Biden was one of the key proponents of the 2005 legislation that is now bearing down on students like Ryan. That bill effectively prevents the $150 billion worth of private student debt from being discharged, rescheduled or renegotiated as other debt can be in bankruptcy court.
As a friend of mine noted about this Biden segment, there's nothing there to appeal to people in non-urban areas. And the way he frames this, he is addressing an audience of affluent ("make all the money in the world") and white Anglo (your friend is being profiled, not you) listeners.

To be fair, it was a presentation on his book tour that gives him a chance to promote himself as a Presidential candidate, not a political rally. Book interviews tend to attract a more educated crowd. Also, politicians as experienced as Biden also make judgments about how to present things based on their read of the audience in front of them.

Even allowing for that, he still comes across as saying that us retirement-age baby-boomers have already done all the real work needed in political and social reform, and you young'uns should shut up with your whining.

This also makes me worry that more than the already-chronic complacency may be taking new hold on establishment Democratic leaders. I'm concerned about the 2006 model, in which the Democrats had a striking success in the midterms and then went on to elect Barack Obama as President in 2008, relying on a movement-style mobilization, along with substantial majorities in the Senate and House. And then Obama took office and started talking up bipartisan compromise and worrying about the budget deficit. Obamacare squeaked through, there was significant economic stimulus, and some important consumer protections got enacted. But the Democrats' insistence on framing even their successful policies in Republican terms squandered a major chance to change the political paradigm.

And don't even get me started on Obama's Grand Bargain to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ...

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