Joe Biden’s pitch as a presidential candidate is first and foremost about the eight years he spent next to Barack Obama, and the the 76-year-old former vice president has not been shy about touting his relationship to America’s most popular Democrat. Biden cites Obama regularly on the campaign trail, and his 2020 platform is largely a testament to everything the Obama administration accomplished prior to Trump taking office. In June, Biden even tweeted a picture of a “Joe” and “Barack” friendship bracelet, complete smiley-face and pizza-slice charms. “Happy #BestFriendDay to my friend, @BarackObama,” he wrote.
Most of Biden’s displays of reverence to the 44th president came when he had a commanding lead in the polls. Ahead of the third debate, however, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are well within striking distance of the longtime frontrunner. The Biden campaign responded on Thursday by dipping into its emergency reserves of Obama nostalgia, releasing a new, minute-long campaign ad in which Biden praises the former president before reminding Americans that it is the “Obama-Biden” legacy they should be so proud of.
“We should step back and say something we don’t often say enough as a party or as a nation: Barack Obama is an extraordinary man,” Biden says in the ad, speaking to a campaign-trail audience as images of Obama Ken-Burns-effect across the screen. The crowd roars. “I watched up close,” Biden continues. “He has character, courage, and vision. He was a president our children could and did look up to. He was a great president.”
The ad has a not-so-sub subcontext: It’s a broadside against the progressive candidates who have at times explicitly or implicitly criticized the former president’s record as they push the party to the left. Warren and Sanders have both pushed for legislation that would replace the Affordable Care Act’s coverage system with universal coverage, and candidates across the field have vowed to cut back on some of the anti-undocumented immigration measures — namely, various types of deportation — that the 44th president oversaw.
One could argue that initiatives such as expanding the social safety net and embracing multiculturalism are a continuation, or even expansion of Obama’s legacy — albeit one that charts a somewhat different course. After the second debate, however, many centrist Democrats were livid after Obama was repeatedly criticized, and Biden’s new ad appears, in part, an attempt to tap into that vein.
But that’s all the subtext, a bit of inside baseball for hard-core partisans and party poo-bahs. And there’s nothing subtle about the ad’s headline: Obama was great, and Biden was there for the greatness.
We’re convinced. #Obama2020.