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Opinion

Biden, third time's the charm?

Joe Biden

In the United States, the word malarkey, which could be translated as "bullshit" or " bollocks", is automatically associated with Joe Biden, the likely Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential elections. This old-fashioned but familiar term perfectly defines the veteran president's candidacy: a return to the political tradition that has characterised the country. Biden, in national public arena since 1972, will try to convince increasingly polarised voters that his experience is a strength in the face of Trump's demagoguery, and that his background will be essential for leading the country back into the future in uncertain times. But where does one of the longest-lasting senators in American history come from?

Biden's personal story is far from the opulence that marks many political figures in the country. The son of a wealthy, underprivileged businessman, the first-born graduated from law school with little recognition, and in 1970 he began his political career in New Castle County, Delaware. His leap into state politics came as a real surprise, as he ran for the Senate in 1972 against the well-known Republican J. Caleb Boggs, who had represented the state since 1961, and the Democratic Party had no hope of victory. In fact, the Constitution states that the minimum age to become a senator is 30, and Biden would only be 30 a month and a half before being sworn in.

The Democratic candidate has repeated on numerous occasions a phrase from his father that describes his philosophy of life: "The measure of a man is not how often he is knocked down, but how quickly he rises". Unfortunately, Biden has had to recover from adverse circumstances since the beginning of his career. Just weeks after being elected senator, his first wife and young daughter died in a car accident, so Biden had to return from Washington to care for his two children, Hunter and Beau, who survived the accident. Although the young star then considers resigning, he finally retained his seat after being persuaded by Mike Mansfield, the Democratic president of the Senate. 

After fourteen years representing Delaware in the Upper House, Biden sought to fulfill his greatest political ambition in 1987: to become president. However, the cabinet of Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who would later become the Democratic presidential candidate for that election, leaked a video to the press in which Biden plagiarised part of a speech by British Labour leader Neil Kinnock. The scandal of that revelation was accompanied by a barrage of criticism, forcing him to withdraw from the primary. Subsequently, the senator considered leaving his post as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but both Republicans and Democrats defended his continuity. One of the figures who supported him the most at that time was Strom Thurmond, a well-known segregationist senator from the Republican Party. His closeness to this and other controversial figures was common in a bipartisan stage, but it has become a political liability as voters have rejected such alliances. 

His return to the Senate after the failed presidential campaign was focused on rebuilding a broken personal image after accusations of plagiarism. The eight years that he led the Judiciary Committee cemented his reputation, but were accompanied by bitter controversy that has tarnished his legacy. The most controversial occurred in 1991, due to his performance during the Senate hearing of attorney Anita Hill. Hill accused then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, but the all-male panel -- chaired by Biden -- discredited her testimony, and the judge was confirmed. In 2019, shortly before launching his third presidential campaign, Biden called Hill to apologize, but Hill felt that this was not enough. "I'll be satisfied when I know there's real change," she proclaimed. 

In 2008, after thirty-six years in the Senate, the veteran politician launched his second presidential bid, and once again his words put an end to his executive ambitions. Describing the future President Obama as the "first conventional African-American who is articulate, bright, clean and attractive," the senator faced a wave of criticism that branded him a racist. Although Obama later downplayed his misguided words and Biden withdrew, his candidacy was already doomed to failure. Moreover, the African American had managed to attract minority voters while the Democratic establishment had opted for Hillary Clinton, leaving Biden without clear support. After a fifth place in the decisive Iowa caucus, Biden withdrew from the race to become the 47th Vice President under the Obama Administration. 

In the eight years he was in the White House, Biden established himself as an unquestionable and effective supporter of the president, and was responsible for negotiating various measures with Republicans in Congress. His bipartisan attitude was especially needed after the conservatives' victory in the House of Representatives in 2010 - which ended the Democratic trifecta - and in the Senate in 2014. Biden also championed social causes aligned with the interests of the progressive wing of the party. A clear example of this was his support for equal marriage before President Obama also decided in his favor. In short, Biden was able to build an independent image but close to his superior, a clear break with his Republican predecessor in office, Dick Cheney.

In 2016, the vice president declined to participate in a new primary process and took a position in favor of Clinton, again preferred by the establishment. A year before the election, his son Beau, firstborn and rising star in the party, had died, leaving him emotionally weakened for a new campaign. Moreover, the polls were not in his favor, and his popularity was lower than that of Clinton and Bernie Sanders, leading Democratic strategist David Plouffe to ask, "Do you really want this [his presidential campaign] to end up in a hotel room in Des Moines in third place behind Bernie Sanders?

Finally, 2020 seems to be the year in which his presidential ambitions could finally become a reality. Although he has not yet been confirmed as a Democratic presidential candidate - he must be appointed by the National Convention - the truth is that Biden remains the only candidate standing. With a message in favour of a return to normality outside the Trump Administration, the former vice president will try to rebuild the famous "Obama coalition" that brought the Democrats back to the White House in 2008. Biden may see the Republican's message as mere nonsense, but to rally the electorate in key states it is necessary to unite them around a common project that goes beyond the rejection of the current president. He has half a year left to convince people that the White House deserves Biden's return. Do Americans want a normalcy that they repudiated in 2016?