WASHINGTON — Time for the old men in the Democratic presidential primary to bow out — Joe Biden on the fourth try and Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., on his second. Age is an issue in the high 70s, as Sanders' heart attack starkly reminds us.
At 76, Biden is fragile in another real sense: He's shown he can't stand up to President Donald Trump's slings and arrows against him and his son Hunter in the politics of Ukraine.
Known for talking a blue streak in the Senate, Biden was struck strangely speechless for days in the face of Trump's fury. This belies his most "electable" Democratic premise: running against the power of Trump. The lackluster response hurt his standing with a 23% swath of voters, an alarm bell.
If Biden ever had knightly skills in the heat of political battle, he's lost them. In a crowded field bursting with talent and youth — and a woman rewriting the book on 70 — one needs stamina, heart and fleetness of feet and tongue to win the race. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is in the top spot now.
After his silence, the former front-runner seemed hapless with a belated speech and an op-ed that ended on a hollow note: he would beat Trump "like a drum."
The New York Times noted Biden's allies found his response "too little too late: a case study in political indecision." His campaign is stuck, losing ground on a strategy that appeals to hearts more than minds.
Translated, the campaign slogan is simply, "Everybody likes Joe."
Family irony runs rich. For all his vows not to let Trump destroy his family, Biden has not said a word to defend Hunter, the prodigal son next to the late Beau Biden. He figures often in his father's lavish talk. The oldest son, Beau, was glorified and groomed for president.
If Beau could do no wrong in his father's eyes, the living Hunter, it seems, can do no right. Trouble and addiction followed him around. In an act that crowned his rebel status, he got involved with Beau's widow, Hallie, for a torrid spell. It's biblical — or Shakespearean. You tell me.
Let's review the plot.
Trump accused the Bidens of trading on their last name to land a lucrative post for Hunter in a Ukraine gas company while Biden was vice president. Trump cried corruption, though he's the one facing impeachment for dealings with Ukraine, urging an investigation of Biden, a possible 2020 rival, and his son. Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine before a fateful telephone call to President Volodymyr Zelensky.
That's known as, um, election interference by a foreign power. We've seen this movie before.
That conversation caused Trump a world of trouble and may cost him his job. But Hunter's sweet Ukraine board gig does not look good. No expert on gas and energy, he appeared to benefit from his father's high government perch for years. A former business partner of Hunter's, Chris Heinz, the son of a senator, broke up their investment firm because he felt Hunter taking the Ukraine plum was a rotten idea.
Heinz judged ethical propriety — and political appearances — better than either Biden.
Remember, Biden has only ever won on the smallest playing field in America: Delaware. He was a passable senator and a genial vice president who warmed up the cerebral Obama White House. That's all.
Actually, Biden has done more harm than good since 1973. Clarence Thomas, anyone? He chaired the shocking hearings that sent Thomas to the Supreme Court. If you like the Iraq War, Biden voted for it. He also authored the harsh crime bill and negotiated to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy.
Biden can talk till the sun goes down. Even Barack Obama, then a senator, wrote a note to an aide: "Shoot. Me. Now." during a Biden monologue at a meeting of the Foreign Relations Committee.
Now the country needs the old men to leave the 2020 field clean and clear for fresh contenders. Imagine the Ukraine drama as a harbinger of the general election.
Somebody tell the haunted Biden he doesn't owe it to Beau's memory to run. In fact, he owes it to Beau's generation not to run.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the creators.com website.
Photo credit: janeb13 at Pixabay