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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Joe Biden–The Importance Of Rectitude, Sincerity, And Principle

Joe Biden like all Vice Presidents has lived in the shadows of his boss.  The most thankless job in American politics but one of the most important. A job that requires patience, reserve, tact, humility and great respect for the President.



Biden was a good Senator who, like Hubert Humphrey, was prolix and effusive; and like Humphrey was diminished in the eyes of the public for it. A serious man doesn’t go on and on, critics said. Steely resolve doesn’t parse with garrulousness.  A President must keep his own counsel, speak ex cathedra or not at all. The happiness of Humphrey and the obvious enthusiasm of Biden have never been considered Presidential traits. We like handsome.  We like rugged.  We do not like big talkers.

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Seven years behind the Oval Office will cure anyone of prolixity, and Biden, now that he is considering a race for the Presidency, has spoken more often.  Yet this is not the Uncle Joe that we remember.  He is a changed man.  Not only did the political incarceration of his office tame him, but the death of his son, compounding a series of other tragedies that one would wish on no man, has chastened him, given him perspective and a seriousness born of age and tragedy.

He is a man who could make a very good President. Moral principle, sincere, unashamed emotional depth, intelligence and rectitude are the very attributes that should characterize our national leaders – anyone, in fact, who holds a public stewardship.

Biden would be a serious candidate in any election, but stands out in this one.  Hillary Clinton is his very antithesis.  She is calculating, venal, and self-serving. She has spent her entire political life on the ethical fringes of governance; and has exhibited an arrogance and sense of entitlement that is the raw opposite of Biden’s sincerity and service.  No one has ever accused Biden of opportunism; but everyone has of Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump throws Biden’s quiet sincerity in even greater relief.  While Trump has energized the campaign, he is a vaudevillian, a huckster, an outsized son of Hollywood and Las Vegas, and a clown; and no one should take is Presidential ‘ambitions’ seriously. He is a fun ride, a circus act, and People Magazine, reality TV, and modern day Robber Baron all rolled up into one.  Anyone who is not enjoying The Trumpster has no sense of humor.  In his outrageousness, he is America.

George H.W.Bush embodied American noblesse oblige. Member of a wealthy New England family, son of a Senator, fighter pilot in WWII, and political leader for decades – Congressman, Ambassador, and head of he CIA – Bush embodied the notion of service. He served because it was his duty and responsibility.  No one accused Bush of personal ambition. He is rightfully proud of his record, and a man who has always shown a respect for family, faith, and country.  Whatever he did right or wrong as President, no one can take away his principal legacy.  He was a good man.

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Ronald Reagan was also a man of principle, good humor, and rectitude. Although he was savaged by the Left for his vision of ‘A Shining City on a Hill’ and ‘Morning in America’, no one doubted his sincerity.  He really did believe in the greatness of America and its moral purpose in the world.  He stood up to the Soviet Union not out of political posturing, but because he honestly felt that it real was evil.  It was godless, autocratically dismissive of individual worth and importance, hegemonic, and dangerous. It was as far removed from the Enlightenment vision of the Founding Fathers as he could imagine.  It was a socially, economically, and spiritually retrograde regime and must be stopped.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt was also a man of the American aristocracy and imbued with the same sense of noblesse oblige as George Bush.  Roosevelt led America to victory in World War II.  He helped the country out of the Great Depression, and despite his patrician roots, built the foundation for American social liberalism. There was never a doubt that Roosevelt believed in what he was doing, was committed to the people of the United States, and moved by duty not ambition.

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Winston Churchill was perhaps the best example of principled leadership. Churchill had an understanding of Britain’s privileged place in history and of the inexpressible evil of Adolph Hitler; anticipated the frightening ambitions of Stalin and the Soviet Union, and led the country in its heroic stand against the German Wehrmacht.

Churchill, like Bush had fought in foreign wars, displayed his honor, courage, and patriotism early in life and never abandoned his principles.  He was a brilliant orator, a scholar whose writings included A History of the English-speaking Peoples among many other biographies, epigraphs, autobiographies, and political essays.

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All of these world leaders made political mistakes.  Ronald Reagan may have overstepped his authority in Nicaragua and Iran-Contra. Roosevelt distorted the private market and the consequences of his emphasis on big government are still being felt. Churchill has been criticized for persisting in his Victorian views of Empire long after the world was being altered by independence and nationalism.  Yet few can doubt the honesty, principled purpose, and sincere commitment of these men.

All of which is to say that the American public should give Joe Biden a good, hard look.  He may be too old, too inexperienced in world politics, and too emotionally fragile to gin up the resolve needed to confront ISIS, al-Qaeda and world terrorism; and in an increasingly threatening and dangerous world, perhaps he is not the right man at the right time. Yet, can Hillary Clinton be trusted to do the right thing when she has done nothing but calculate for personal advantage? Can anyone seriously trust Donald Trump to have the patience and savvy to sort out the bewildering complexity of world affairs and make the right decisions?

Bernie Sanders has a distinct appeal because he is passionately committed to a progressive, populist agenda – one which resonates with the tens of millions of marginalized, economically disenfranchised Americans.  His ideas may be inconsistent with the conservative juggernaut of free enterprise, small government, and individualism that seems to be the model for today; but at least they are honest, sincere, and backed by years of political investment.  There is no sham, cant, or posturing about Sanders.

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It is no surprise that Sanders is doing so well in the polls. He is benefitted by Hillary Clinton is a candidate who cannot articulate a coherent moral and political philosophy; and who has been correctly characterized as a self-serving, overly-ambitious, and secretive woman.

Although both Biden and Sanders are probably not right for 2016 – their compassionate progressivism is out of touch with a violent, aggressive, and separatist world; and their faith in government not justified by its sorry history – they should at least be considered seriously because of their idealism and honesty. They are good antidotes for the venal politicians in the race.  Walker, Cruz, Santorum, and the rest of the Republican candidates are running on their political ideas and programs; and few can match the character of either Biden or Sanders. 

Biden and Sanders are good for America and for the political process; and by example should help to resuscitate the legacies of  Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.  Even more importantly they should put the idea of leadership back in its proper perspective. Roosevelt and Churchill were both patriotic, courageous, and visionary. They embodied the values enunciated by Cato the Elder more than 2000 years ago in his curricula for the education of Roman leaders – honesty, courage, honor, justice, compassion, intelligence, and dignity – values which have characterized great civilizations since Mohenjo-Daro and Mesopotamia.

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‘Values’ have come under attack by the progressive Left, for being too Western, white, Christian, and male.  Personal integrity based on a well-defined set of moral standards is, they say, considered retrograde and antithetical to secular social progress. Yet such moral and ethical principles should be the foundations for leadership.

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