You know you’re a nation whose aspirations are in steep decline, when your best hope – days before your most consequential election in history – is being called “an average Irish guy…a good-looking guy with a gift of gab.”

Today’s New York Times article about former Vice-President Joe Biden is a testament to how un-exceptional America has become. It’s a trend that seems destined to continue even if (or when, depending on whether you believe polling) Trump is tossed out by voters in November.

American exceptionalism” (for those who don’t know) is a grand delusion that the United States enjoys a unique status on the world stage, and that it is a model of nationhood to be exported around the world. It was hard to even type that without snickering, but many Americans truly believe this (or did at one time).

Still, it was jarring to read the article revisiting Biden’s past statements, like the time he said he viewed the Vietnam War “in terms of stupidity, not morality.” The article goes on to highlight his lifelong ability to glad-hand and flatter his constituents to win them over. Apparently he had “worrisome grades” in college and his academic performance cost him both his football career and his early political role in student government.

Are you inspired yet?

The article goes on in painful detail about Biden’s persistent normalcy. There are references to his early, skirt-chasing ways until he met his wife, who made him a better man. Yes, this narrative sounds familiar – let’s bring out all the old patriarchal tropes. There is mention of his disdain for protesters, even during the civil rights movement (!) and references to his discovery of swimming pool segregation (not exactly demonstrating a fulsome understanding of the horrors of racism).

Finally, there is a description of him as an “institutionalist,” or someone who changes the system from within. Translation: Just calm down everybody who thinks he’ll “defund the police.”

All fine and dandy, but how has that institutionalism been working for you thus far, America? Isn’t this anger at institutions what led to the massive Trumpster fire in the White House for the last four years?

Sign from the Women’s March in 2018.

This is all designed, it seems, to reassure voters that Biden is not scary, or susceptible to influence by “leftist radicals.” He’s just a “normal” guy.

Sidenote here: Try to imagine a woman running for president with this description of her appearing in a major news outlet, “an average Irish girl…a good-looking girl with a gift of gab” and thinking that low standard was acceptable. Nope.

So, I understand the strategists behind Biden’s campaign may be trying to swing voters who are influenced by Trump’s characterization of his opponent as someone who’ll be brainwashed by the left. They may or may not be influencing this piece by the Times behind-the-scenes. Even without knowing the back story, just stepping back and reading this article – it is truly gag-worthy.

The world needs to get beyond leadership based on the “gift of gab,” “flattery” and “gladhanding.” Those “skills” do not actually translate to true collaboration or even cooperation. They’re talking sweetly about his skill at distraction and even deception. Those are actions to make you think things are okay even when they’re not.

To sum up the message in the New York Times profile: Joe Biden is the person who doesn’t want to do anything different from what he’s always done in the past. You can expect more of the same. Nothing to fear here.

When the USA needs more courage and honesty, the alternative to a certifable madman on the other side should be more than “just an average guy.” That message gives little hope or confidence in the future. It’s the least awful choice being offered to a small number of oddly undecided voters when the aspirations of all voters deserve much, much better.

Miss Cranky Pants (aka Jody MacPherson) is a professional communicator, amateur politico, commuting cyclist (currently working from home), and coffee addict who gets a little testy without regular caffeine. 

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