Perhaps it was inevitable that the Internet would want Joe Biden to run for president. After all, Hillary Clinton has maintained a massive lead in national polls since the beginning of the 2016 presidential election cycle and seemingly inevitable elections are kind of boring—especially when compared to the heated 2008 contest between Clinton and then Senator Barack Obama. Because he is one of the country’s most prominent Democratic politicians, has made two White House bids in the past, and also served in the Obama White House, Biden is a natural choice to face off against Clinton.
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Even though Biden has yet to declare, #RunJoeRun has been continuously trending on Twitter. The problem, as revealed in a poignant interview from last week’s The Tonight Show with Stephen Colbert, is that Biden seems genuinely ambivalent about wanting the job. After discussing at length the pain of losing his son, Beau, to a brain tumor last May, Biden answered questions about a future presidential candidacy: “I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there. I'm being completely honest. Nobody has a right in my view to seek that office unless they are willing to give it 110 percent of who they are.”
Joe Biden knows these struggles well: This tragedy follows the loss of his first wife and his daughter in a car crash 40 years ago. However, his personal history raises an important question: At what point does pressuring someone in Biden’s position become inappropriate? Whether or not Biden does decide to mount a campaign, that’s his decision to make.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t reasons in favor of Biden running. As Clinton’s list of scandals—including her ongoing email woes and flip-flopping on major issues—has grown, her public polling has plummeted. Although Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is currently leading Clinton in New Hampshire and gaining ground on her in Iowa, polling experts like Nate Silver have noted that this has more to do with Sanders’ unique appeal among grassroots liberals than Clinton’s own potential weaknesses as a candidate. For those who want more viable candidates in what is becoming a two-horse race between Sanders and Clinton, it makes sense to encourage Biden to run.
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But it’s important to keep in mind the very thing that’s made Joe Biden so appealing to begin with: He’s human. “Joe Biden's unique trait as a politician is—and always has been—his honesty,”wrote Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post.“Sometimes that honesty gets him into varying degrees of trouble. Sometimes it makes it seem as though he's the closest thing to a real person you could possibly hope for in politics.”
Poet and novelist Jay Parini made a similar observation on CNN, describing Joe Biden’s interview with Colbert as “uncommonly moving” because “of Biden's offhand honesty, passion and wrenching humanity as he discussed his beloved son Beau's death from brain cancer earlier this summer.” Parini wrote, “[I]t was life happening before our eyes, the kind of life we find in our own living rooms and kitchens.”
While Parini undeniably has a strong point, there is something troubling about a political culture that focuses so much on capitalizing off of authenticity that it forgets to show respect for it. Imagine you were in Joe Biden’s shoes—would you be willing to forge ahead as if nothing changed? Some would choose to continue our career ambitions despite (or because) of such setbacks, while others may need the time to grieve. But one thing is certain: We all would expect the rest of the world to give us space, so that we can have the breathing room necessary to make these tough decisions for ourselves. Why shouldn’t Biden receive the same regard?
Of course, this isn’t the first time a politician has faced unspeakable tragedy in the public eye. In 2012, when the Republican presidential primaries had boiled down to a contest between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, it came out that Santorum’s daughter, Bella, was fighting complications caused by Trisomy 18, a rare genetic disorder that is often fatal. Although many conservatives had serious reservations about Romney and viewed Santorum as their last best hope, the consensus if Santorum put family first—and dropped out—that was OK.
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More than 20 years earlier, Al Gore’s son was nearly killed in a car accident. Although Gore had placed a strong third in the 1988 Democratic primaries—and would have thus been an automatic frontrunner in 1992—he bowed out of that race with support of his party.
None of this means that Biden shouldn’t run. Indeed, Beau himself reportedly told his father, shortly before passing away, that he wanted him to run for president, and recent reports indicate that Biden is meeting with top Obama fundraising bundlers, which suggests that is still seriously considering that possibility. But just as politicians and the public supported Al Gore and Rick Santorum, so too should the Internet’s anti-Hillary crowd recognize that Biden is a person first and a politician second.
It’s not just about whether America is ready for a Joe Biden campaign. Joe Biden needs to be ready for America first.