“No one party can fool all of the people all of the time,” Bob Hope once said. “That’s why we have two parties.”
Although in our short-term views they often seem to wallow in stagnant self-satisfaction, the pair of political parties that have dominated U.S. history have been constantly evolving — or devolving, depending on your partisan allegiance.
In fact, both the Democratic and Republican parties originated around the mid-19th century when, perhaps coincidentally, a young Briton named Charles Darwin was refining his seminal theories about the origin of species and how they evolved in order to survive in a changing world.
The same holds true for U.S. parties. Neither Jacksonian Democrats nor Lincoln Republicans would recognize the 21st century versions of their once rowdy clans.
In recent times Republican and Democratic parties have stumbled in apparent dysfunction. The tea party rebellion bubbled up to split GOP adherents because Republican leadership in Washington lost its conservative focus and seemed more interested in going along to get along. Also, ideological purity became important.
In 2016, that resulted in a lifelong, pro-choice Democrat named Donald Trump cleverly capturing GOP leadership and the White House with long-term party ramifications yet to be determined.
Nowadays, Democrats are experiencing their own divisive, left-handed rebellion over deep dissatisfaction with the progress of progressive ideas in the hands of House leadership, all of whom are in their late seventies.
So, in one of those intriguing twists that make politics so fascinating, they’ve turned for now to a 77-year-old Sen. Bernie Sanders, a lifelong democratic socialist who’s become a convenient squatter in the Democratic Party again.
Whether through naivete or ignorance of history, these energetic younger Democrats have made Sanders by far the polling favorite of likely primary voters, and the recipient of by far the largest bundle of campaign cash to date.
Sensing one final chance to become his party’s presidential nominee, 76-year-old Joe Biden has now entered the crowded fray. With name recognition, he too moves atop polls. And the former vice president also automatically becomes the canary in the coal mine of Democrats’ future.
Biden is without doubt a lifelong liberal. He came out for gay marriage so early, for example, that it forced the hand of his reluctant boss, President Barack Obama, to do the same.
But in this massive field of 20 wannabe presidents trying to out-give-away policy freebies to the party’s fractured segments, Biden looks more like a centrist, a pragmatist who knows how to get stuff done. But who cares about getting stuff done when ideological purity is what really matters?
Biden can also look and sound like an adult, unlike some on the contemporary scene. Earlier this year he actually admitted that he likes Republicans and has worked with many. Once upon a time, that would have been a plus. In today’s world – especially in primary season – that’s heresy.
To the likely relief of party bosses, as an alternative to suicide-by-Sanders, that position could well propel Biden to expel the usurper, blabbermouth billionaire and sit in the Oval Office finally — if this were the 2020 general election campaign.
But it isn’t.
It’s the fractious primary season when the other junkyard dogs have Biden’s nearly half-century public record to chew on. He is by far the most experienced politician in the field and sat for eight years at the right hand of Obama, once a savior now viewed by many zealots as insufficiently progressive.
Which makes Biden the least fresh face out there. He must first wend his way through months of minefields to the caucuses in Iowa, then New Hampshire, South Carolina and later Super Tuesday. He must avoid playing defense so much, apologizing for perceived sins of the past.
Move on, Joe. Tell us why you want to be president. Give Democrats new reason to invest hope in you. Hillary Clinton never explained that beyond it being her turn. She lost. And not because of Russians.
Running for commander in chief is a wrenching, exhausting, frustrating, demanding, trying experience, as it should be. Biden needs to show more drive and energy than these mouthy youngsters and these mouthy seniors Sanders and Trump, who turns 73 in June.
Americans want a president with fire in the belly. No matter how savvy the hidden reasons, waiting until late April to launch raises doubts.
Oh, and don’t forget money. Some of Biden’s competitors will likely have to quit by late fall when the ad expenses kick in, because right now dollars are the votes that count. Joe has access to Obama’s vaunted email list, but is far behind in money.
Sanders reported $18.2 million in first quarter donations, mostly in small amounts. It’s reported that Biden, a notoriously weak past fundraiser, took in $6.3 million in the first 24 hours.
That’s actually misleading. More accurately, after the first 24 hours, Biden reported having received $6.3 million, which he’s been stockpiling to tout after that first day.
That used to be a lot of money. But $6 million is a third of Bernie’s total and half the haul of Sen. Kamala Harris, who’s trying to repeat Obama’s feat of turning a partial Senate term into the presidency.
Biden’s take plops him near the bottom along with the likes of Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Cory Booker. Biden supporters announced formation of a PAC to help him — but only last week.
The debates will give Biden — and all the others — a national stage to show their stuff and woo donors. But they don’t start until late June. Can a political canary thrive until then?