Joe Biden Campaign Shows Signs of Decline in New Hampshire

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MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE—St. George’s Greek Orthodox Cathedral presides over something of a youth basketball dynasty. The walls of its gymnasium are festooned with banners attesting to the accomplishments of of the church’s boys and girls teams, including several Harry Agganis National Championships, named for a star Greek-American athlete who died young. Sharing the wall-space with the banners are huge mural-type photographs of the Parthenon and other Zeus-related tourist traps, to which people flock to look at what’s left of failed democracies. When Joe Biden spoke in the St. George’s gym Monday night, if he looked out over the crowd and slightly to his right, he would see a massive photograph of the broken rubble of the Acropolis. It was the night before the New Hampshire primary and everything seemed broken, especially Biden’s campaign.

There is an ineluctable sense of valedictory in the Biden campaign now. He has tried this three times now, and it never has quite worked out. In 1988, he copped some lines from Neil Kinnock, and the people working for Michael Dukakis caught him, and that was that. Twenty years later, he was swept away by the phenomenon of Barack Obama, who later gave him a job. And now, in 2020, he seems a step slow and a few beats behind. The effect is like watching the passing of the armies, an entire generation of politicians, born professionally in the wake of Vietnam and Watergate, finally disappearing into the midwinter ground fog. American politics always has had in it a deep and unacknowledged streak of melancholy. His stump speech now ends with the concept of loss.

You know, we have lost so much with Donald Trump in president, we have lost time to do a climate crisis, we have lost the trust of our allies, we lost the respect of much of the world, but let me tell you something. Like a lot of you, I lost a lot of my lifetime as you have, I lost a lot. But I tell you, I’d be damned if I’m going to stand by and lose this country to Donald Trump for four more years.

He never was as strong as people said he was. He never was going to clear the field, the way Hillary Rodham Clinton tried to in 2016. Joe Biden never was going to scare anyone out of running for president, as should be obvious by now. He never was going to soak up the money and the attention, which a frontrunner needs to do. Now, for example, even in New Hampshire, he is being swamped by Mike Bloomberg, who isn’t even running here, but who is cutting into Biden’s supposed firewall with African-American voters before this campaign even gets to South Carolina. Joe Biden is never going to intimidate anyone. He never has.

Presidential Candidate Joe Biden Campaigns In New Hampshire Ahead Of Primary

Biden’s candidacy was never going to intimidate anyone. He never has.

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He never brokered power as much as he channelled it—toward passage of the Violence Against Women Act, true, but also to the benefit of the greedy pirates of the credit-card industry, and ineffectively in defense of Anita Hill, an episode that still counts more against his reputation than do all the confirmation processes through which he shepherded the judicial nominees of Democratic presidents. He channelled power for power, often to good ends, when the power for which he was channelling power was dedicated to those ends. He channelled it less well upstream and, often, he wasn’t perceived as trying too hard. He left his maverick stage, if he ever had one, years ago.

So now what he has left is a living nostalgia trip to the kind of politics that doesn’t exist any more. It very likely never did, at least to the extent he believes that it did. As he told the crowd Monday night:

I believe from that moment on, when I announced, that we were in a fight for the soul of America, even more so today, everything this country stands for, everything you believe, our core values, our leadership on the world is at stake. Our very democracy at stake. Look, this year I said character is on the ballot. America’s character. Everybody knows who Donald Trump is. Even the people who support him don’t want their kids growing up [like him]. Ask any of your friends who support him, you want your kid to grow up [like him], the same value set. Everybody knows who he is, we have to let him know who we are. Folks, we choose hope over fear. We choose science over fiction, unity over division, and truth over lies.

Do we, America answers him? Do we truly? The available evidence of history is very ambivalent on all of those contentions, and the evidence throughout Joe Biden’s career is that he will ignore that ambivalence until it falls on his head and crushes him. He will ignore it the way he probably didn’t notice that huge photograph depicting the ruins of another great democracy, where now crows and lizards roam, and where tourists come to gawk at everything that was left behind.

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