A very mediocre political career centered for decades on wanting to be president, for the sake of being president.
Joe Biden’s desire to be president has lasted for at least three decades. Obviously, virtually all presidential candidates are ambitious. But we prefer their ambition to come at least partly from something more than the naked desire to be a powerful person. What about Biden’s?
It isn’t a question of political partisanship. For example, Obama wanted to be president from an early age, but I think it’s fairly clear why. He was personally ambitious, to be sure. But he also saw a chance to not just be president but to be the first black president, which did mean something. He also is a leftist and probably has been one for his entire life, as far as I can tell. He wanted to move the country in that direction, and thought he was just the person to do it.
And he was.
Trump is also an ambitious man and always has been. But he had already achieved great fame and fortune when he announced his run in 2015. He said – and I believe him – that he ran because he saw things that needed doing, and he wanted to Make American Great Again.
Please take a look at this NPR article, written around the time of Trump’s inauguration, and offering quotes from about 30 years of Trump’s on-again-off-again presidential ambitions. For the most part there is a remarkable consistency of theme and motivation there. For example, from a 1988 interview with Oprah [emphasis mine]:
Asked if he’d run for president, Trump said:
“I just probably wouldn’t do it, Oprah. I probably wouldn’t, but I do get tired of seeing what’s happening with this country, and if it got so bad, I would never want to rule it out totally, because I really am tired of seeing what’s happening with this country, how we’re really making other people live like kings, and we’re not.”
More about a presidential run and winning. He even uses his signature “believe me:”
“I think I’d win. I tell you what, I wouldn’t go in to lose. I’ve never gone in to lose in my life. And if I did decide to do it, I think I would be inclined — I would say, I would have a hell of a chance of winning, because I think people — I don’t know how your audience feels, but I think people are tired of seeing the United States ripped off. And I can’t promise you everything, but I can tell you one thing, this country would make one hell of a lot of money from those people that for 25 years have taken advantage. It wouldn’t be the way it’s been, believe me.”
Much more at the link. You don’t even have to like Trump or agree with him to see that his basic goals are clear and have barely changed in all these years. It’s not that Trump hasn’t always been personally ambitious, but he also was able to state what he wanted to do for the country and the direction in which he wanted to take it.
But what does Joe Biden want, and why would he think that he’s the man to do it?
Is he running merely to stop Trump? At least partly, I suppose, but that certainly wasn’t true in his previous bids. To bring a divisive America together? But on that score he offers nothing but intermittent and lukewarm lip service rather than soaring rhetoric, energy, or a history of unifying. But he does have a record of strongly desiring to be president, one he’s had since he was a very young man:
When [Biden] first met [future wife] Neilia’s mother, she asked what he wanted to do for a living. Biden informed her he intended to become president of the United States.
Biden had met wife-to-be Neilia when he was 22 years old and married her at 24, so this encounter with his future mother-in-law must have occurred during those years between 22 and 24. That’s how early he had the ambition to be president, and had not only formed the notion but held it firmly enough that he was willing to state it to his future mother-in-law as a solid intention and qualification to marry her daughter.
Now, that’s ambition. But again, to what purpose?
I assume that at any point along the way, Biden could have articulated a convincing reason why he and he alone – of all the mediocre career politicians in the US – should become president. But I don’t think that reason ever would have been convincing. It certainly wasn’t convincing to the American public each previous time he ran:
Until Saturday’s [February 29, 2020] South Carolina primary, Biden had won zero presidential nominating contests across three campaigns and 32 years.
But now he’s the last man standing. At least for the moment.
[NOTE: And remember Ted Kennedy?]
[Neo is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at the new neo.]DONATE
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