Saturday 26 September 2020

Biden’s lack of boldness emboldens Trump ( Sunday Guardian)



Biden seems to lack the intensity of Trump, and is giving an appearance of being micro-managed by smug and know-it-all staffers.

President Donald J. Trump refers to his opponent as “Sleepy Joe”, while others in his entourage use another epithet to describe the Democratic challenger, “wimp”. They say that the only time Joe Biden showed genuine emotion was when he reacted to Trump mocking soldiers in wartime as “losers and suckers”. From all accounts, Biden’s son and former soldier Beau was an outstanding human being, and not just his family but his country has been diminished by his loss. The former Vice-President is himself known to be a person of faith who has preserved family values and his own integrity, together with wife Jill, who is known for her steadfastness. Both are unlike younger son Hunter, who seems fixated on making money, no matter where or how. This has made Hunter the second-weakest link in the chain of events that could catapult the Bidens into the White House on 20 January 2021. The weakest link is Joe Biden’s staff, several of whom are not even Barack Obama vintage, but are unrepentant Clinton groupies. They are uncomfortable with (and uncomprehending of) the immense changes that have taken place in the world and in the US in particular since the 1990s. While there are a few outstanding talents within the Biden campaign, many of the key staffers are of the same vintage and mindset as lost the 2016 election for Hillary Clinton, by misinterpreting the mind of the very voters needed for victory. The same excess of confidence seen in Team Clinton during the 2016 campaign has been present in Team Biden, the latter sharing the earlier belief of the former that it was “impossible to lose” against a candidate as riddled with contradictions as Donald J. Trump.

While the 45th President of the US has his flaws, and multiple books have been pointing this out coincidentally close to election night, he cannot be accused of being anything other than his own man. The volley of barbs directed by President Trump at China during this year’s UNGA speech went against the obsession of diplomats everywhere to substitute plain speaking with opaque language capable of multiple interpretations. Donald Trump likes those who are “less educated”, and what he said about China in that very consequential UNGA speech would have been understood even by a 12-year old. Several in the inner recesses of power in Beijing fondly remember Vice-President Biden (as well as Hunter), and expect that the US will go back to the Clinton-Obama era where the PRC is concerned. This was a time of occasional symbolic gestures designed for television audiences camouflaging a welter of concessions. It was President Clinton who opened the doors wide to the WTO as well as to technology imports from the US to China, even while keeping the door barred to India. In contrast, Joe Biden seems to lack the intensity of Donald Trump, and is giving an appearance of being micro-managed by smug and know-it-all staffers in the way Hillary Clinton allowed herself to be. On China, Biden has stuck to the State Department handbook, which is to talk in language that is subject to different meanings and which conceals the intent, if any, of the speaker. If Trump can succeed in making the 3 November contest a referendum on who can best take on China, he would win, as Joe Biden in his hyper-scripted establishment avatar seems diffident about facing the challenge to US global primacy that China under Xi Jinping represents. Astonishingly, 17 Congresspersons from the Democratic Party in the House of Representatives (including the youthful hope of the Kennedy family, who shamed the memory of John F. Kennedy by this action) demanded that “arms sales to India stop”. The beneficiaries of such a move would be Pakistan and China, clearly countries closer to the hearts and minds (if not the pocketbooks) of these members of the House of Representatives than the world’s most populous democracy. Or the need to defend it against a Wahhabi military that breeds terror organisations and an authoritarian expansionist state intent on driving the US out of the Indo-Pacific and from the pinnacle of world leadership. Neither Joe Biden nor Kamala Harris has reacted to an initiative designed to advantage China and Pakistan over India. Not to mention benefit the military sales entities of Russia, who would step in to fill the vacuum left by the US blocking weapons sales to India. Biden campaign managers seem to have muzzled even Kamala Harris—for the few events in which she is allowed to participate are lacklustre—with poor choice of background together with boilerplate introductory speeches. It is a surprise that Joe Biden does not show some boldness in using his Vice-Presidential pick’s charisma and speaking skills. Both Harris and her partner Doug Emhoff are attractive campaigners with an appeal far beyond considerations of ethnicity, but neither seems to be in favour with Biden’s handlers, hence the sparing way in which they are being used in the 2020 campaign. Much of this consists of scripted meetings addressed by Biden with the help of a teleprompter, thereby forcing voters to contrast diffident delivery with the easy confidence of President Trump. An election is the compound of intellect and emotion, and in the latter department, thus far the Biden campaign is much lower down the scale than events involving Donald Trump and the formidable Mike Pence.

Voters in the US are looking for the candidate who can face down the Xi-Putin combo. Trump is vulnerable in view of his softness towards Vladimir Putin, but Biden is less than convincing in attempting to show that he can take on Moscow, while where Beijing is concerned, all that is visible from the Democratic standard bearer are either platitudes or silence. Such reticence could act as fodder for the expected Republican volley against Hunter Biden next month. Joe Biden would have done well to support some of Trump’s initiatives against China rather than reflexively oppose whatever the 45th President has been doing. Given the trouble that geopolitical shifts mixed with Covid-19 is causing, only a bolder Biden can win the contest for the White House, not a candidate constrained by his staff, many of whom are operating in the belief that the 1990s can return. Of course, several in the Trump train believe and act as though the 1950s can return, and hence the 2020 race for the White House is developing into a battle between two different revivalist visions. The more Joe Biden goes by the dictates of some of his key minders rather than listen to his own conscience and hark to the example set by Beau, the closer Donald Trump is to securing a second term in the White House.

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