The show that is called the Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner put on by the Montana Democratic Party ended closer to midnight, the first day of spring and Daylight Saving Time than it did noon. And it concluded after all of the snow that earlier had melted and turned into ponds in the parking lot had become a skating rink about 11 p.m. when Uncle Joe Biden finished his speech that mentioned Sputnik, Delaware, moral turpitude, and the way that Democrats can reclaim political possession of the famed Middle Class, the seeming salvation to moral and political superiority in the class war that today claims the central debate in American politics (though most in the middle class don’t know who they are and we couldn’t identify them — or us — if they were on a billboard outside Albertsons).
The M&M is, as a friend said, really a good time to see old friends and warhorses who worked in politics before fax machines, cable TV, email, hip hop, social media and Stormy Daniels came along — when you still had to perform the quaint activity of talking to people to get their money and their vote.
That seemed to be the thesis of Uncle Joe’s homily: longing for the good old days when you could ride a train to work, call people on a rotary phone and they’d answer, and courtesy, philosophy and your manners — and a handshake — counted for something. All of that has been upended, Uncle Joe said, and nothing means anything anymore, it seems. You can say and do anything, tell fake lies and fake truths, cut taxes and create huge deficits and then raid the social contracts of Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid that underpin America’s agreement with its people and established by Democrats and some Republicans alike.
What has happened?, Uncle Joe wondered to his congregants. Can we turn this around, reclaim the moral high ground (where is that, because you can’t find it with GPS — I tried) and regain control of this giant country that is listing to starboard.
It’s not that difficult, Uncle Joe pronounced in his lilting Irish (Delaware) brogue. (Uncle Joe has a great sense of phrasing, rhythm, pacing, and stress — and of telling a story that holds your attention, especially about family and friends that is seemingly lost today in our leaders. And he can also shout when needed, like when he wants those pesky kids to get off of his lawn and he doesn’t want to leave the porch. He’s good.)
Uncle Joe is a throwback, a man, and politician who grew up in the U.S. Senate when it was “known” to be less craven and more orderly and — dare I say — gentlemanly, and you “knew” your place in that order. Now the politics in Washington, D.C., he preached, is all chaos all of the time, with no order, no manners, no coherent policy and based on greed and driven by unlimited “dark money” and the gerrymandering that keeps politicians in their seats for a lifetime with little challenge to their tenure. And that fails to mention cable’s chattering class who get paid for blathering and repeat the same tired talking points provided by their parties.
What to do? Uncle Joe wondered to his grand-nieces and nephews. But never fear, Uncle Joe is here. If anything, Uncle Joe laid out the problem — moral depravity and the conundrum of the withering Middle Class — and framed himself as the champion to ride in on the white steed, with lance — to save the day. It was a perfect setup, ready-made to suggest ever so slightly his honorable intention to potentially maybe perhaps possibly run for president. Huh. That’s what that was all about, the reason for the teleprompter and the off-the-cuff written speech.
But, if anything, Uncle Joe stoked the nascent fires set to turn the 2020 presidential election into a conflagration, one that will burn billions of dollars and just see if Democrats have a cogent message that can break through the stratosphere and penetrate the hearts and minds of the Middle Class and independent voters needed to win a national election.
When Uncle Joe bemoaned the “naked and phony nationalism” and populism practiced by Trump and his disciples and “designed” to help the “selfish” and greedy, he beseeched the more than 1,000 gathered at M&M to wage a moral, cultural and economic war for the Middle Class. Like Clint Eastwood in the movie Gran Torino, he seems ready and willing to sacrifice himself for the benefit of future generations. Whether those generations will listen to and follow a throwback who like a Jesuit teaches political theology is the question.
Here we go! Let the sermonizing begin. And may the best preacher win.