Joe Biden is a Decent Man, Goddammit!

It was a warm May afternoon and my two daughters and I had been invited to Washington. Vice President Joe Biden was apparently a huge fan of my old podcast The Bat Segundo Show. Just three weeks before my visit to the Beltway, one of Biden’s aides called me out of the blue and said that I was to receive an award. Apparently, Biden very much enjoyed the introductory segments featuring my unsettling alter ego, Bat Segundo, who lived in a Motel 6 and often complained about his ex-wife.

“Every time Joe hears Mr. Segundo’s voice,” said the aide, “he starts hugging people around the office. Your podcast has really worked him into an affectionate frenzy.”

“Hugging people?” I replied.

“Yes. And smelling hair. You know the Biden way.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, he believes that the key to connecting with other people lies in taking in their fragrances, ideally through significant inhaling of their hair.”

“I don’t want Joe to smell my hair. Besides, I’m bald and I don’t have any.”

“Can he smell your armpit?”

“No!”

“Can you grow a beard? Joe really likes hair.”

“No. It’s too hot. You know the New York summers.”

“Well, he probably won’t stand behind you and smell your tender aroma anyway. You’re a man.”

“What?”

“He mainly does this with women.”

“I don’t know whether to be perturbed or personally offended! Shouldn’t there be equal opportunity sniffing?”

The aide coughed and quickly changed the topic.

“Listen, you’re doing a great service here. Your interviews with literary authors are top-notch. We want to give you an award. A Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.”

“Really? Gosh, I’m humbled. I mean, I just interview authors. I haven’t even published a book!”

“But you’re doing much more than that. You see, Joe really likes Mr. Segundo. As I said, there’s something about Mr. Segundo’s toxic masculinity that drives him crazy.”

“Uh, you do realize that Mr. Segundo is a fictitious character, right? He’s satirical.”

“Oh, I know that. But Joe doesn’t.”

“Ah.”

But my anxieties were soon put to rest after the aide told me just how decent Biden was. Sure, Joe was a touchy-feely guy. But he was our touchy-feely guy. If Joe liked to smell hair and leap upon total strangers with his ravening bearlike arms and take in other people’s fragrances, then maybe this was the slightly creepy human touch we needed to connect with each other as we advanced further into the 21st century. After all, every liberal I knew was so lonely. Besides, who was I to quibble with Biden’s failure to adjust to modern times? Who was anybody to criticize Joe after their visible discomfort? I was a registered Democrat and Joe was being Joe. It was more important for me to place party unity above such petty concerns as whether or not a man, even one on my side who possessed tremendous political power, was being weirdly inappropriate with his affection.

Anyway, I got on a bus with my two daughters. Lizzie, my youngest, had spent the previous afternoon drawing a large illustration of the kids in Syria. I encouraged Lizzie because I had heard that Joe liked it when kids talked about Syria. I was told by a journalist friend that most of Biden’s foreign policy had, in fact, been inspired by kids whispering nervous sentiments into his ear, often as they were wondering where mommy and daddy were, as he stood mere inches away from them and beamed that wide Biden smile. And this seemed decent, so profoundly decent, of him that I became genuinely moved and finished off the box of Cheez-Its that I had taken along with me on the bus. I wept with great inspiration into the empty red box, thinking about what a great and decent man Joe Biden was as Maggie (my oldest) tried to wipe the orange crumbs from my fingers and asked if I had seen my shrink that week. (I hadn’t.)

The three of us arrived at the Library of Congress shortly after being cleared by the Secret Service. We walked through a long hall into a decorous room, where the vice president was there. Or rather we found out he was there when he stood behind Maggie and shouted, “Boo!” Maggie jumped in fright, but was soon soothed by Joe’s decent hands, which were busy massaging her neck. It was so decent of him, so unusually good for Joe to think about how stiff my oldest daughter was from the bus ride. He was clearly a man who cared. And he soon moved onto my youngest daughter and started massaging her shoulders. It was a decent gesture and a decent massage. And I said to Joe, “Hey, what about me? Don’t I get a shoulder rub?”

Joe laughed, waved his hand in the air, and said, “You have two lovely daughters.”

The new narrative about Biden suggests that he is exploitative and solipsistic in his encounters with women. Although I did not witness what the women who have come forward to criticize Biden experienced, what I do know is that my two daughters had much looser shoulders inside the Library of Congress and that they had stopped paying attention to me, preferring to spend time with Uncle Joe. He habitually nuzzled, hugged, and kidded around with them. He tuned in emotionally, although, when I told him about the box of Cheez-Its I had wept into on the bus, he didn’t seem to listen. He also asked why my wife hadn’t arrived. And I told him that she was busy treating patients at the Kalaupapa leper colony and that she only came out to Brooklyn four months out of the year. “I’m really disappointed she’s not here, Ed,” said Joe. Then he leaned in very closely and said, “But if the two of you are ever in town, bring her along. I have a few comforting words I want to whisper into her ear. And you need to be there when I do this.” And this incredibly generous offer, which was so comforting, demonstrated again why Joe was so decent. I was very proud to be a Democrat that day.

And so I stand with Eve Gerber, Alyssa Milano and The View, and all the others who are willing to look the other way when a decent man presents himself as the inevitable choice for the 46th President of the United States! Let us surrender our moral standards when it comes to our party and honor this tactile politician, this decent man, this great avuncular touchy-feely saint of America! Yes, other presidential candidates are capable of showing the appropriate physical restraint when meeting and listening to strangers. But none of them are as popular, as likeable, or as decent, as Joe Biden!

I, for one, admire Biden’s deviant decency!

In Defense of Susan Sarandon: How the Pro-Hillary Media Distorted a Vital Dialogue

If you learned about Susan Sarandon’s remarks on Monday night’s installment of All In from a sensationalist Slate article written by Michelle Goldberg, you might have believed that the famed actress and lifelong progressive had called for balaclava-wearing Bernie Sanders supporters to throw Molotovs and overturn burning cars on live television. You might have believed that Sarandon had willfully aligned herself with the #NeverHillary campaign recently launched by Karl Rove’s super-PAC, basking in the prospective anarchy from a clueless tableau of Hollywood privilege. But after seeing Chris Hayes’s interview with Sarandon, I was stunned not so much by Sarandon’s remarks, which were observational and pragmatic and hardly evocative of Yippies levitating the Pentagon, but by the way in which Sarandon’s thoughtfulness had been so deliberately mangled by a “journalist” who had announced, only one month before, that she would be voting for Hillary Clinton.

Goldberg painted Sarandon as “a rich white celebrity with nothing on the line” and insinuated that she was part of a group of “posturing radicals on social media who pretend Clinton would be no better than Trump.” But Goldberg’s superficial remarks failed to fairly and accurately represent the far more important dialogue about what electing a compromise candidate to the White House really means. Can’t one have doubts about Hillary Clinton as President even as one simultaneously recognizes the threat of Trump? Why should such a position be shocking?

It was Chris Hayes who transformed the Sanders/Sarandon notion of revolution into “Leninist” with his leading question, not Sarandon. And it was Goldberg, cavalierly cleaving to Hayes’s framing, who trotted out the wholly inapplicable Ernst Thälmann parallel used so frequently to illustrate how German progressives failed to unite to stop Hitler’s election as Chancellor. Never mind that the German election of 1933 did not involve a two party election and that, should Hillary clinch the nomination, it is doubtful at this point that any Bull Moose-style third party will emerge to reproduce these conditions.

As Orwell once wrote, “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” And the truth Sarandon was telling involved how income inequality, the erosion of the middle class, and the failure of career politicians lacking the spine to sign on for the Fight for $15, have caused a not inconsiderable number of Americans to place their stock in outsiders like Trump and Sanders. As I argued in December, one doesn’t have to be a Jacobin subscriber to comprehend that this is a perfectly natural response to an establishment that has failed to rectify serious injustices in any substantial way. We are living in circumstances that call for far more drastic progressive action than the Democratic status quo. This isn’t even that “revolutionary” of an idea, but it is revolutionary by weak-kneed American political standards. And if this quieter form of American “revolution,” which has been seen quite prominently with young voters flocking in droves to Bernie Sanders, is delayed this election cycle, then perhaps there is a stronger likelihood of a revolutionary front emerging after the atavistic horrors of a potential Trump presidency. That’s how revolutions work, you see. They revolt against an establishment. They don’t even have to be that extreme. But Chris Hayes and Michelle Goldberg refused to entertain these fine distinctions. For all their pro-Hillary pragmatism, they couldn’t seem to understand that you could play a comparable long game as a revolutionary.

Here is the pertinent transcript from the interview:

HAYES: Right, but isn’t the question always in an election about choices, right. I mean, I think a lot of people think to themselves well if it’s Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and I think Bernie Sanders probably would think this…

SARANDON: I think Bernie probably would encourage people because he doesn’t have any ego in this thing. But I think a lot of people are, “Sorry, I just can’t bring myself to do that.”

HAYES: How about you personally?

SARANDON: I don’t know. I’m going to see what happens.

HAYES: Really?

SARANDON: Really.

HAYES: I…I cannot believe that as you’re watching the, that Donald Trump…

SARANDON: Some people feel Donald Trump will bring the revolution immediately. If he gets in, then things will really, you know, explode.

HAYES: Oh, you’re saying the Leninist model of “heighten the contradictions.”

SARANDON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Some people feel that.

HAYES: Don’t you think that’s dangerous?

SARANDON: I think that what’s going on now — if you think it’s pragmatic to shore up the status quo right now, then you’re not in touch with the status quo. The statue quo is not working, and I think it’s dangerous to think that we can continue the way we are with the militarized police force, with privatized prisons, with the death penalty, with the low minimum wage, with threats to women’s rights, and think that you can’t do something huge to turn that around. Because the country is not in good shape. If you’re in the middle class, it’s disappearing.

And you look, if you want to go see Michael Moore’s documentary, you’ll see it’s pretty funny the way they describe it. But you’ll see that health care and education in all these other countries, we’ve been told for so long that it’s impossible.

HAYES: Canada.

SARANDON: It’s like we’ve been in this bad relationship and now we have to break up with the guy ’cause we realize we’re worth it. We should have these things. We have to stop prioritizing war. And I don’t like the fact she talks about Henry Kissinger as being her goto guy, for the stuff that’s happened in Libya and other things I don’t think is good.

“I don’t know.” Not #neverhillary. “I’m going to see what happens.” A reasonable statement given that the final election is still a little less than eight months away and that there is still plenty of time to deliberate. “Dangerous.” The idea of even remotely considering how our present system isn’t good enough to help out the working and the middle classes, even under a Hillary Clinton administration, and using the probability of a Trump presidency to consider future momentum.

This really shouldn’t be that shocking. Thomas Frank’s recent book, Listen, Liberal, of which I will have more to say about in a forthcoming dispatch, doesn’t mention Bernie Sanders at all, but points to several examples of Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama failing to honor the needs of the working class and willfully distancing themselves from the New Deal. It is no great secret that the last three decades of mainstream Democratic politics have been less about providing a safety net for hard-working Americans and more about enforcing conditions in which they will have to go into debt and willfully acquiesce to an unchecked plutocracy. And it is shameful that any criticism or uncertainty expressed about this Faustian bargain, which uproots lives and diminishes American potential, is now considered by apparatchiks like Goldberg to be akin to pissing in the pool.

I get it. The 2016 presidential election has become so preposterously cartoonish that it almost seems as if Donald Trump will soon act out grotesque scenes from Pasolini’s Salò before an appreciative crowd. Trump is a highly frightening individual who believes the Geneva Convention to be a problem and who seriously suggested that women should be punished for abortion, statements that were so unthinkingly extreme that two pro-life groups issued statements denouncing Trump’s comments. It is enough for any sane and rational individual to clamber inside her own shell, pointing to the problematic Kissinger pal going out of her way to tone down hard truths as the lover you’ll settle for.

Let’s talk about the “gormless unreality” of Senator Elizabeth Warren hitting the Senate floor denouncing oligarchy, corruption, and Citizens United. Or how Los Angeles has led the charge to raise minimum wage, causing California Governor Jerry Brown to propose similar reform at the state level. Or the nonpartisan efforts of Rootstrikers calling for Wall Street reform. Or how the Sanders campaign learned important lessons from Occupy Wall Street on how to build a movement.

These are developments that allow any progressive to maintain some lingering faith in a feral political system and that demand higher dialogue, not clickbait snipers distorting and demeaning radical ideas for a paycheck.