Charles P. Pierce on how Joe Biden drove the GOP crazy by being Joe Biden.
Back in 2012, when the shebeen was all shiny and new and vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden was preparing to dismantle the electoral career of Paul Ryan, zombie-eyed granny starver from Wisconsin, this is something I wrote about in anticipation of their debate. Remember, this debate came directly after President Barack Obama’s curiously passive approach to his first debate with Willard Romney.
Joe Biden is not riven with self-doubt. Joe Biden is not exhausted by the hurly-burly of politics. Joe Biden is not burdened by the weight of events and laid low by the constant battle against know-nothing obstructionism. Joe Biden is not going to take the stage tonight and find himself wishing he were anywhere else. I mean, god be good to him, as my gran’ used to say, but Joe Biden actually likes all these silly performance pieces in which we insist he be engaged in order to stay vice-president. He revels in them. He would do ten of them a day, if he could. When I consider Joe Biden, and I look at the enthusiasm with which he throws himself into the various cataracts and torrents of hogwash that constitute our politics these days, I find myself looking at him the way I look at people who sky-dive or drive in demolition derbies. I have no idea why they do what they do, and I have absolutely no intention of doing it myself, ever, but, goddamn, do those people look like they’re having fun.
We saw it again Tuesday night when President Joe Biden freight-trained his whackadoo Republican opposition in his State of the Union address. He also flipped the very idea of the State of the Union address on its head by turning it into an American equivalent of the prime minister’s Question Time in the British Parliament. He wrapped them in a bear hug so warm that they didn’t realize they were being smothered. He took on hecklers like a veteran of a Catskills resort. He smiled, he laughed, he bellowed when it was called for. He had the only microphone in the room, and he used it like a hammer.
Predictably—and laughably—the Republican opposition walked right into every clout. Marjorie Taylor-Greene, dressed (as a friend of mine said) like the White Witch of Narnia, howled from the backbenches. Speaker Kevin McCarthy was on camera as often as the president was, and we could all watch as the vice grips got progressively tighter. As for the rest of the Angry Children’s Caucus, they hit all their marks and delivered their lines perfectly as the president led them merrily over the falls. For example, on infrastructure:
Projects that are going to put thousands of people to work rebuilding our highways, our bridges, our railroads, our tunnels, ports, airports, clean water, high-speed internet all across America. Urban, rural, tribal. And folks, we’re just getting started. We’re just getting started. And I mean it sincerely. I want to thank my Republican friends who voted for the law. And my Republican friends who voted against it as well. But I’m still — I still get asked to fund the projects in those districts as well, but don’t worry. I promised I’d be a president for all Americans. We’ll fund these projects. And I’ll see you at the groundbreaking.
In that 2012 debate, when Ryan criticized the Obama administration for “wasteful” stimulus spending, Biden pulled out a letter that Ryan had written to the administration requesting some of that spending for his congressional district back in Wisconsin. And then Biden laughed, and I have forever marked that moment as the end of Ryan’s importance to our national politics. That last line—”I’ll see you at the groundbreaking”—felt like the same kind of moment. And he smiled wide as he delivered the haymaker.
The real party piece came when he dared to mention that the Republicans want to gut Social Security and Medicare—which in the case of Social Security has been a Republican goal since “The Shadow” was on the radio. He baited them and baited them, and they went for it like starving carp.
Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans, want Medicare and Social Security to sunset. I’m not saying it’s the majority. Let me give you — anybody who doubts it, contact my office. I’ll give you a copy — I’ll give you a copy of the proposal. That means Congress doesn’t vote — I’m glad to see — no, I tell you, I enjoy conversion. You know, it means if Congress doesn’t keep the programs the way they are, they go away. Other Republicans say — I’m not saying it’s a majority of you, I don’t even think it’s even a significant — but it’s being proposed by individuals. I’m not — politely not naming them, but it’s being proposed by some of you. Look, folks, the idea is that we’re not going to be — we’re not going to be moved into being threatened to default on the debt if we don’t respond.
Then, right on cue, the Republicans launched into a tantrum. The president has not been in politics since god was a boy to miss an opportunity like that one.
Folks — so folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right? They’re not to be — all right. We’ve got unanimity…So tonight, let’s all agree — and we apparently are — let’s stand up for seniors. Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare. Those benefits belong to the American people. They earned it. And if anyone tries to cut Social Security, which apparently no one’s going to do, and if anyone tries to cut Medicare, I’ll stop them. I’ll veto it. And look, I’m not going to allow them to take away — be taken away. Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ever. But apparently it’s not going to be a problem.
[Howard Cosell voice:] “Down goes McCarthy! Down goes McCarthy!”
It was far from a conventional political address. There were very few oratorical bells and whistles. Instead, it was something akin to FDR’s fireside chats: colloquial and intimate. So many sentences began with the word “look” and were addressed to “folks.” More than anything else, its tone sounded like it had been drawn from a particularly energetic ward committee meeting down at the AOH Hall.
It was the best speech Joe Biden ever has given because it was the most Joe Biden speech anyone ever has given. It was all him, aimed right at all of us, addressed to all of us—you know, the folks.
This is what drives the MAGAistas nuts: they can never be natural without being craven assholes, and to make it worse — for them — they know it.