Where is Joe?
Some on Twitter (yes, I know) seem concerned, but is this even a good question?
So, for the last couple of days, I have noted some noise on Twitter asking #WhereisJoe or #WhereisJoeBiden? Most promoters of this question appear to be folks from the more progressive side of the Democratic electorate who preferred another candidate for the nomination, frequently asserting how this all shows Biden isn’t up to the task, will lose to Trump, and/or that candidate X would be out there leading (more on that below).
Kevin Drum noticed as well, writing a blog post entitled There’s No Reason to Worry About Joe Biden Being MIA for a Few Days:
Ever since he won Tuesday’s primaries Joe Biden has mostly kept out of sight, something that has lots of lefties upset for reasons that mostly escape me. For one thing, it’s only been three days. For another, it’s normal for candidates to take a breather and review their strategy going forward after they’ve locked up the nomination—as Biden clearly has. Furthermore, even after locking things up, nominees have to be careful not to bigfoot legislative leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who are currently negotiating coronavirus legislation and don’t want to be undermined by Biden mouthing off with his own plans. Ego management is important at all times.
That was posted yesterday, so I guess we can assume it is now four days (I have not watched any Sunday shows to see if Uncle Joe or his mighty band of surrogates have gotten any love in the time of Corona). Still, I concur with Drum’s basis assessment (and his post details Biden’s plans for the week, which strike me as reasonable given this present moment).
But the point about bigfooting Schumer and Pelosi (and, even, the problems with trying to assert national leadership when we have an actual president at the moment)* is not an insignificant point. Indeed, it is what caught my mental attention when I first saw these complaints a few days ago.
I do expect Biden to make Trump’s response to Covid-19 part of his campaign. It would be irresponsible beyond words not to do so. It is, without exaggeration, the most pressing public policy issue we are facing at the moment. And, from a purely political point of view, it is a clear weakness for Trump who has demonstrated an inability to effectively govern and lead in this crisis. It is, therefore, Biden’s job as the essentially certain opposition candidate to effectively delineate how he would govern differently given these conditions.
However, one thing Biden can’t do right now is attempt to lead. For one, he is not an elected official at the moment. For the Democrats, leadership really has to come from Speaker Pelosi and, to a lesser degree, Leader Schumer (lesser because he is in the minority in his chamber). Moreover, like it or not, Trump is the president and it is his job to be the national focal point for dealing with this crisis. He is the head of government and head of state. It is, frankly, dangerous, to assert that an unelected private citizen should attempt to assert a leadership role at this moment in time (as some have done).
I acknowledge, fully, that I am reacting to a handful of folks on Twitter and not some mass movement, but the point is still worth making.
Still, it really should be repeated: Joe Biden is currently a private citizen holding no office. He should not attempt to lead. It is his job to make the case as to why he should get the chance to lead (and why the current leader needs to go).
So, it is the Democratic nominee’s job (and therefore almost certainly Biden’s) to effectively criticize the poor job Trump is doing and to sketch out how and why an alternative administration would do a better job. But any governmental leadership from the Democrats has to come from the Congress.
I think part of what we are seeing here is the unfortunate degree to which, despite being a representative democracy with power diffused to a number of institutions, many in the public often have a tendency to want to reduce government and leadership to a singular person. This is a disquieting tendency.
A concluding thought: to amplify Drum’s point quoted above, this really doesn’t seem like a terrible time for a campaign to be taking a semi-breather. The news cycle is consumed with the virus, so airtime is limited, and social distancing makes it necessary to rethink their approach to the campaign. And to range into cliche for a moment: this is a marathon and pacing oneself matters.
*And to be clear, I am, as regular readers know, fully cognizant of the limitations of said president.