Joe Biden: Staying Alive
When you set the bar too high, you end up setting the bar too low.
I remember when I learned that lesson. When I was a teenager I was such a perfectionist I was often paralyzed by it -- I’d want to write the most perfect letters, give the most perfect gifts, be the best friend and daughter and student and employee I could, do the best job at everything I ever tried, impressing everyone around me with my awesomeness. But sadly, most of the time, even though I expended tons of energy and effort chasing perfection, I couldn’t reach it and gave up in defeat. Oftentimes I ended up not doing anything at all, failing in my responsibilities, falling short of my spectacular goals, constantly disappointing myself and others. Finally someone told me that people would rather have anything, even if it was lousy, than nothing, and I turned it around in my mind and realized it felt true. I learned that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and the good is the enemy of the good enough, and it’s a mantra I still live by to this very day.
In 2004 Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont, screamed enthusiastically on national television and his political aspirations died on the vine. Apparently a guy showing passion for America and his party was worthy of mockery for the culture vultures and mock they did. He was ripped apart by pretty much every nihilistic, apathetic idiot with a bully pulpit and he couldn’t come back from it. Pundits try to explain it away saying “it wasn’t really the scream that doomed Dean” but I lived through that time and yes, it was the scream. Really.
But of course that was ancient history. Speaking of ancient, this week I read an article in The Atlantic about Joe Biden, the likely Democratic presidential candidate. It was about how terribly disappointing and unappealing Joe Biden is, but in order to get votes, all he had to do was stay alive since so many people will vote for a (in the words of my fave writer Jess Walter) potted plant with a D in front of their name.
And all I could think about is how the Democrats are me at age 16, frantically writing rough drafts for thank you letters I never managed to send because I could never truly capture the depth of the feelings that were in my heart. My poor family members ended up receiving nothing and assuming I didn’t care when the reality is I cared so much I couldn’t get it right and preferred to settle for nothing rather than compromise on my vision of perfection. And the voters have to settle for nothing since the Democrats won’t compromise their vision, either.
I have watched, a concerned onlooker who would be willing to vote for a quality Democrat to get rid of Trump, a concerned onlooker who has NEVER voted Republican in any presidential election, as tolerable candidate after tolerable candidate was held up to the light and inspected and found lacking for some utterly ridiculous reason. Beto was a furry. Kamala was a cop. Warren was a snake. Booker was a sellout. Buttigieg was a goody-two-shoes and he wasn’t the “right kind of gay”. Klobuchar seemed terrified when she got onto a debate stage. Joe Kennedy never even bothered to run after the Lip Gloss Incident.
Now we’re left with a couple of guys I really cannot vote for in good conscience. We’re left with a couple guys who I said again and again, I’ll vote for just about anybody except for those two.
And yet here we are. Those two.
I have felt for a long time that politics, particularly Democrat politics, has an authenticity problem — in fact I wrote a piece about the focus-group-created monster that was Frankenbeto — but try as I might, I don’t see how the D’s can get past it.
Donald Trump found a way to get past it. In a Republican field full of Marco Rubio drinking water and Chris Christie being fat and Ted Cruz being the Zodiac Killer and Jeb Bush begging for applause and Ben Carson possibly being invited to apply to West Point, but maybe not, and his wife was ugly anyway, somehow Trump, despite being a walking premise, just kept rolling right on along.
Nothing stuck to Trump, in no small part because we already knew the kind of man he was. He was an orange man with weird hair and a chequered past and sexist attitudes and people wanted to vote for him anyway. But I think it was more than that. Trump kept on keeping on because he’d learned that same lesson I learned with my chronic life-ruining perfectionism…nobody cares if you write a 3rd rate thank you note riddled with typos and banal phrasing, what matters is you send them without shame, without apology, without acting as if you’re doing anything wrong at all.
It’s when you act like you did something wrong that people start to think you did something wrong.
Howard Dean should have come out after that scream and said “I’m passionate about America. I’m not ashamed of it. Why aren’t you passionate about America? Why isn’t John Kerry out there screaming? Why isn’t HE passionate about America? America needs a guy willing to scream on national television to lead her into the 21st century!” and then he should have repeated that scream in every speech he made thereafter. He probably would have destroyed Kerry and gone on to defeat W as well. But when you act like you did something wrong, people decide you did something wrong, even when you didn’t. And the same goes for Beto the Furry, Kamala the Cop, Pete the Inadequate Gay, Trembling Amy, and yes, even Ms Pow Wow Chow herself. Where is the passion? Where is the rage? Where is the desire to stand up and say, “I’m an imperfect person, take me or leave me, but you better damn well take me because I’m what America needs right now!”
The Democrats have a very real problem because they’ve painted themselves into not one, but two corners. The first corner is obvious — it’s the corner of being so big into cancel culture that no one can survive their vetting process because cancel culture always assumes that everyone did something wrong and then proceeds to look till it is discovered, no matter how microscopic. But the second corner is even more insidious. The second corner the Democrats have painted themselves into is the result of decades of trying to appeal to youth and cool so remorselessly that no one on Planet Earth could ever BE that cool, and certainly not a middle aged politician who occasionally does things like enthusiastic screaming. That puts Democrats in the position of trying to make completely uncool people cool yielding epic disasters of uncoolery like this one:
Look at those a-holes at the start of that video drinking orange juice out of wine goblets and eating f*king croissants. Such a mystery why the Dems are losing the working class vote.
Donald Trump won because he rejected cancel culture as hard as he could, apologized for next-to-nothing, and somehow, even though I don’t exactly understand the whys of it, the dude is cool. Even I think he’s cool and I fricking hate him. I personally despise it that politics in the 21st century involve a metric popularized by Arthur Fonzarelli, but then again I didn’t create this system, Democrats did, because they thought it was a competition they would always be able to win.
Democrats, you’ve reaped what you’ve sown here. Your passion for coolness may work for ya when you’re going up against Jeb! or Romney, or ubercool Obama is in your corner, but in your pursuit of being seen as eternally cool I’m afraid you forgot a couple things. Firstly is that other stuff matters besides coolness, and secondly, and most damning, you’ve forgotten that cool can change, and then you didn’t keep up with the times. That’s why Hillary Clinton was such an idiot sending already-past-her-sell-by-date Katy Perry out to campaign for her in a world of people who are sick to death of celebrity worship. That’s why the press are so idiotic thinking people care about how Donald Trump eats his steak. It isn’t 1994 any more, media, and people read a lot lessVanity Fair these days. And candidates, STOP LISTENING TO THE MEDIA and start addressing the voters, because it’s the voters who decide elections no matter how much the journalistas seem to like you.
Fun fact, what is cool to elitists is very far from what is cool to the rest of us, and basing a campaign around what’s cool to a bunch of stuck up croissant-eating snobs ain’t gonna win you votes in places that do not contain anywhere near as many stuck up croissant-eating snobs.
Now, as for Bernie Sanders, that guy is cool. Bernie’s problem is that he has bad policies, not that he’s uncool. You know the reason why Bernie Sanders is cool even though no focus group anywhere would have ever come up with him in a zillion years? Because just like Donald Trump, he doesn’t give a F what the establishment thinks of him, he just does his entirely authentic Bernie thing. Trump doesn’t care that he has weird hair and strange coloring. Bernie doesn’t care that he also has weird hair and that he reminds everyone of an insane homeless man talking about Doomsday while spit flies in every direction and he waves his arms all around like Kermit the Frog.
The key to cool is not caring. The key to cool is, as trite as it sounds, being yourself. (Your mom was right all along!) So when the Democrats equate coolness with electability, which they have since Bill Clinton slipped on some shades and played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show, and then they define “cool” by what celebrities and Washington DC insiders and a handful of woke activists say it is, well, I’m sorry to say, but of course they’re gonna end up with disasters like Hillary thinking she had the election all buttoned up because Beyonce and Jay Z were campaigning for her. You’re gonna end up with disasters like Kamala Harris saying she listened to Tupac when Tupac wasn’t even making music then. You’re gonna end up with disasters like the Warren campaign.
Democrats, you based your entire image around the pursuit of coolness, but you never stopped to think that actively pursuing cool makes an individual, or a political party, appear pathologically uncool.
Joe Biden is not cool. I’ll give him props for embracing his image as a doddering old dude telling bizarre and meandering stories in between sniffing small girls, and he’s somehow miraculously more electable than the non-entity Kerry and less abrasive than human sandpaper Hillary Clinton, but the dude ain’t cool. Anybody with that much plastic surgery (especially a dude) is not cool because they obviously care too much about what people think to possibly be cool. And his policies aside (are there any?) that’s why no one can get excited about him. It’s the air of desperation. It’s knowing that this guy has been dying to become president my whole adult life and he’ll do and say anything to make it happen up to and including getting hair surgically implanted into his scalp. Joe Biden is about as real as a slice of American cheese. He’s about as authentic as a $10 Gucci handbag. That’s why he’s basically “the warm body candidate for our times” and the only positive thing anyone can come up with to say about him is “well, at least he’s not dead.”
Joe Biden is basically the guy with so few relevant opinions and so much Obama Magic Pixie Dust he managed to slip through the cancel culture net even though it caught people far better than he is. He was able to do this because even though he’s totally problematic in ways that make Buttigieg look like he works for the NAACP, and Bill Clinton look like…well, at least he waits till they’re of age. But like Donald Trump, we knew all that stuff about Joe already. We knew who Biden was going in and so his terribleness wasn’t a surprise, it wasn’t a revelation, people were just like “welp whatreyagonnado” and cast their vote anyway. For all Biden’s issues, none of them were dealbreakers, somehow, amazingly, depressingly. But no one is excited about him, and Democrats, you really need people to be excited because the MAGAs are definitely excited.
This is what you get for trying to find a perfect candidate — no skeleton closets, no quirks, no ‘uncooleries’. You get a boring predictable drudge who no one particularly likes but everyone knew it was gonna be all along, kinda like watching Meryl Streep win another Oscar when she’s been phoning it in for years. Instead of a perfect candidate, you end up with the most mediocre one since you chucked all the better candidates because they weren’t perfect enough and that left only the clown who no one even cared enough to get rid of. You end up not with the best candidate, but the most anodyne one, and that ain’t cool. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t recool the pathologically uncool by propping up a bunch of celebrities around them, because cool is not defined by fame, and if you still don’t realize how hated celebrities are here in 2020, I suggest going back and watching the Golden Globes again.
Democrats, even if you win this next election courtesy of a timely outbreak of coronavirus, I think you have a very hard road ahead of you. The socialists are on the left of you, the who’s-afraid-of-big-government-anyway Trumpists are on the right, and both of them are nipping at your neoliberal globalist heels. Your real estate is getting smaller by the second and your influence is disappearing. Pretty soon Goldman Sachs is gonna have no one left to deliver speeches to them. If you want to survive you’re going to have to muzzle your lapdogs of cancel culture and disentangle your image from ‘cool’ because the 1-2 punch of both of them put together is disqualifying a lot of good candidates and leaving only the barely-tolerable dregs, aka Joe Biden, the Man Who Lived.
Please listen to a recovering perfectionist — perfection is not an option. Learn to settle for good enough, fast, because otherwise you’re gonna end up with the political equivalent ofSnakes on a Plane…on paper, it seems like it should be totally awesome, but in practice, it’s the furthest thing from it.
When you set the bar too high, you end up setting it too low.
And by the way, is it too late to get Howard Dean?