For a while now, we have had some fun watching the clown show that is known as the Republican presidential primary. But with tomorrow's first Democratic primary debate coming up, things on our side are heating up, and the media is abuzz with talk of how Hillary Clinton will defend against Bernie Sanders - and whether, pundits say with time running out - Joe Biden will enter the race.
Joe Biden is already polling in third place, and he hasn't even declared. The organizers of Tuesday night's debate are even setting aside a podium for him in case he makes a last-minute decision.
I for one hope that podium gets filled.
The CBS polling that has Biden rounding up the top three candidates for the Democratic nomination reveals critical voids only Joe Biden can fill. The Vice President is better positioned in the general election than either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders (who has no chance in the general if Republicans can get their act together even a little bit). Biden is the only person polled in either party who crosses the 50% mark among all voters on all four areas polled: leadership, trust, experience and empathy.
Except for "strong leadership qualities" - which, among the right wing has come to mean the biggest phallic-jerker - where Trump has an edge, Joe Biden also beats every other top-polling candidate, Democratic and Republican, in every other category of presidential qualities among the American electorate at large.
Biden and Clinton do cross the critical threshold of 50% on leadership, however, with Biden at 55% and Clinton at 53%. Voters don't see the man planning to podium pound his way to the White House as a leader despite his supporters' insistence that he'd get everything done by the power of sheer will, ranking him near the bottom of the pack at 39%.
But if you want to know what a modern American Democratic president needs, luckily, the current occupant of the office is the best example you will find. That person needs to be the calm in the eye of the storm of political and racist opposition. That person needs to earn our confidence, have the right combination of leadership and experience (the right kind of experience, not the length of seat-warming), and most importantly, care deeply enough about the lives of ordinary people to make our fights his or her fights.
61% of voters see Biden as honest and trustworthy (Carson has 58% in this category, but that may have more to do with the fact that Carson is honestly a dick), compared to 45% for Sanders and 35% for Clinton. Honesty and trust is critical for a voter, as ultimately, we are electing a leader who will undoubtedly be faced with tough, unforeseen decisions, and it is really their judgment we are confiding in through our votes.
On experience, Biden's 60% nod outstrips Clinton's 51% by a comfortable margin, and Biden straight out whips Sanders with a nearly 30-point lead. Even Donald Trump beats Sanders on that one, although by only 4 points.
In the most critical area for a Democratic candidate for president, empathy, Biden leads all candidates Republican and Democratic, and he outshines Sanders by 11 points and Clinton by 17 among registered voters. Two out of three Americans (67%) see Biden as caring about them.
Empathy matters more than almost anything else in a president. When the chips are down, will a president look out for the single mother looking to give her daughter a fair shot at the American dream? When all is said and done, will a president's decision about sending Americans into harm's way involve agonizing hours feeling the pain of soldiers and their families, and because of that a commitment to diplomacy and peace as the building block of his or her foreign policy? When setting a budget, will a president be focused on achieving progress for the poor and the middle class, or will she or he spend time creating more gridlock?
We could also say empathy is the common thread defining the Democratic party. It should be noted that for the people this quality is most important - i.e. Democrats - Biden is favored over Clinton by 6 points (88% of Democrats in the poll believe Biden at least somewhat cares about people like them, while 82% say the same about Clinton), and of the top three Democrats, only Sanders has sub-80% marks.
Democrats have every reason to be proud of Barack Obama's leadership, and his time in the Oval Office will be defined as a transformational progressive era in American history. As Democrats consider who to pass the mantle of Obama's leadership to, it appears clear that each of our candidates possesses some strengths, at least compared to their Republican counterparts.
I am known for not thinking much of Bernie Sanders or his version of problem solving (scream, podium pound, etc.), but the conversation about economic disparity is important. Hillary Clinton is polished, proven herself against Republican attacks, and proven herself an able footsoldier in President Obama's cabinet. But she is also known for political posturing, and while that's hardly a sin in politics, it's a weakness.
The void then is this: Bernie Sanders doesn't fit the bill on having the right kind of experience (clearly he has the length of time - he's been in Congress since the early 90s). Hillary Clinton is barely in the positive territory on a Democrats' most important quality for president (empathy), while Bernie is behind the line on the very same quality among Democrats.
Joe Biden is different. He's a man America has known for a while - from the young 30-year-old who came to the Senate following a family tragedy in which he lost his wife and child, to the tireless 72-year-old happy warrior whose personal suffering knew no bounds as he lost another child this year to cancer. America has come to know this man as someone who not only is their next door neighbor but proved his loyalty to ordinary people when it came time - whether it was in writing the Violence Against Women Act, criminal justice reform, arms control, foreign policy, or judicial nominations. He proved that America can make big and smart investments in a time of crisis when President Obama gave him responsibility to oversee funding under the Recovery Act.
There is no questioning Biden's experience to govern, his qualifications to be president, his bona fides on good government or his ability to advance the interest of everyday Americans from the White House. It may well be why Biden is the only candidate who crosses the 50% mark among all voters on all areas polled.
That's why I hope Joe Biden will step up, even in the time of great personal trial, to pick up the torch of progress from President Obama and volunteer to lead our country through this time of trial. No one will blame him if he doesn't. But Joe Biden is among our time's greatest and most selfless patriots, and I hope he answers this call one last time.