Justin SullivanGetty Images
WAUKEE, IOWA—To tell you the honest truth, if I believed the explanation of presidential powers outlined to the U.S. Senate by Alan Dershowitz on Wednesday, I would not be out here, driving around through the cold and frosty haze to events held by the people trying to replace El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago.
Every public official I know believes his election is in the public interest. Mostly, you’re right. Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something that he believes will help him get elected, in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment…Every president believes that. That’s why it is so dangerous to try to psychoanalyze a president, to try to get into the intricacies of the human mind. Everybody has mixed motives.
If I really believed that, then I wouldn’t trust any of my fellow human beings with that kind of power, and that includes any of the Democratic candidates now traipsing through the gray and lonely Iowa winter. Instead, I’d be advocating to eliminate the office of president* entirely, since it clearly is an inherent danger to self-government.
Joe Biden came to the Vince Mayer Recreational Center here, and I wouldn’t trust him with that kind of power, either. It is a very strange, dead-level time in the campaign, especially considering we are deep in the homestretch of the first signifying votes that will be cast. Three of the most prominent candidates remaining—Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, and Senator Professor Warren—are stuck in Washington as jurors in the puppet-show trial of a renegade president*. Consequently, Biden has the state almost all to himself; Pete Buttigieg’s campaign is almost audibly losing air here.
(The campaigns of the senator-jurist-candidates are leaning on surrogates; SPW, for example, was represented all day Thursday by former rival Julian Castro, and by her husband, Bruce Mann, and by Bailey, their dog.)
At the Mayer center, the press and the Biden-curious were damned near in a one-to-one relationship. For himself, Biden has chosen—shrewdly, I think—to turn his being central to the Republican defense of the president* into a campaign weapon on his own behalf.
Welcome to Donald Trump’s world. Up is down. Lies are the truth. Allies are the enemy. Everything is through the looking glass…In Joe Biden’s America, the president’s tax returns won’t be a secret. Political self-interest will not be confused with the national interest. And no one, not even the President of the United States, will be above the law.
The fact that the Republicans in Washington have made richly debunked charges against Biden and his son, Hunter, so prominent in their defense against the articles of impeachment brought by the House of Representatives has put a sharper edge on the central premise of Biden’s whole campaign—that the current president* is an existential threat to “the soul of our nation.”
The American people are a good and decent people…They deserve a president who tells them the truth—not lie after lie after lie. They deserve a president who will put the country’s interest first—not his own self-interest. They deserve a president who appeals to the best in us—not the worst. They deserve a president who will bring us together—not pull us apart.
The campaign stop Thursday morning was partly pre-emptive. The president* is bringing his traveling wankfest to Des Moines Thursday night, and some of his primo crew bosses are going to be fanning out across Iowa all weekend. Biden clearly wanted to establish his presence in advance of those events.
That was good enough for Brad Woods, a retired educator from Des Moines. Woods was born and raised the son of a political activist in Carbondale, in southern Illinois. Some of his father’s activities were in the great American tradition of local politics. “I started out when I was nine or 10 years old, with my father, and they’d go around handing out a couple dollars in an envelope, and they’d have these big rallies in the park.” Woods and his father also got involved with a community group in Carbondale called The East Side Rangers. “We had our own considerations,” Woods said. “We were like the Panthers, but we were about the community. We weren’t about the violent part.”
Woods came out for Biden because he sees a kind of steadiness through experience that Woods believes the country needs. Ideologically, he probably aligns elsewhere. This kind of perceived familiarity—call it the Old Shoe Factor—is about all Biden has going for him in Iowa. People know him. They’re comfortable with him. They’ve seen him before.
“I think he has a track record even before President Obama came around—that he was a man for the people of this country,” Woods said. “President Obama enhanced that. He helped that out. But he was his own man before that and I think he’s his own man today. We need this man to take on Trump, head-on. I think he can stand on his own two feet and, if we get behind him, we can show the world that we’re not just people who’ll take anything. This man named Trump? He’s just a worldwide buffoon. People are laughing at him and thinking the United States is a joke. We need somebody to bring us back to the powerhouse that we are.”
This strikes me as overly optimistic. Of course, I spent a week in Washington watching the third-rate remoras of this presidency* rewrite the Constitution in order to keep him in power. And there are people who slept out overnight on the chilly sidewalks of Des Moines for a chance to hear the president* deal out the same virulent heresies in person. He is the chief executive of a country I don’t recognize anymore.
Respond to this post on the Esquire Politics Facebook page here.