In 2004, the Democrats had a presidential candidate from Vermont who had energy, activism, the support of the young and a cause — ending the Iraq War — bolstering him. But in the end, the party establishment determined that this candidate, despite his obvious appeal, was “unelectable.” Instead, they opted for a doddering, senior figure who was judged to be more palatable to Middle America.
We are now fully aware of how that feint at “electability” ended: Howard Dean was defeated by the “electable” John Kerry, who went on to lose handily to Republican incumbent George W. Bush. It turned out that voters were not exactly ecstatic for a candidate with a long history of flip-flopping on vital issues, who had marinated in the Washington swamp for decades, who had backed the Iraq war before deciding he didn’t want to fund the effort to actually win the thing, and who had only ever been elected by liberal voters in an overwhelming Democratic state.
Was George Santayana right? Is history about to repeat itself because nobody learns from the past? The parallels today to 2004 indeed are striking: Bernie Sanders is this year’s Howard Dean, and Joe Biden this year’s John Kerry.
In a way, however, likening Mr. Biden to Mr. Kerry is unfair — to John Kerry. In 2004, Mr. Kerry was only in his early 60s and seemed in possession of his full faculties. Joe Biden is 77 and fading fast. Mr. Kerry had a combat record; he had served in Vietnam with distinction. Mr. Biden is the epitome of the “career politician” — he was so young when he was first elected to the U.S. Senate that he couldn’t be sworn in until after he had turned 30. Joe Biden has been busted for plagiarism and serial falsehoods; Mr. Kerry, for all his haughtiness, had no such black marks on his record.
Party establishments get in trouble when they coalesce around candidates based on their perceived “electability” — the notion that other people will like this guy. It didn’t just happen with John Kerry; it happened with Mitt Romney and John McCain, too. The Democrats are foolish to line up behind a plainly declining old man whose record in Washington is not particularly impressive.
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