Former Vice President Joe Biden kicked off his 2020 presidential campaign with a rally in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon. Flanking the stage were screens and a podium sign flashing the word “United.“ In a sometimes rambling speech, Biden tried to carve out space for himself as the non-divisive candidate. The good ol’ Joe who you’d want to have a beer with. The guy who was VP to President Barack Obama. The “electable” candidate who can beat Trump.
“Some say Democrats don’t want to hear about unity,” Biden told the crowd. “That they are angry, and the angrier you are, the better. That’s what they are saying you have to do to win the Democratic nomination. Well, I don’t believe it.”
Biden coming on stage and telling America to essentially calm down—as babies are still kept in literal cages at the border, as women’s rights are under assault from red state governments in a race to create the most restrictive abortion legislation to overturn Roe v. Wade, as our nation moves steadily toward autocracy—is incredibly tone deaf. Anyone who isn’t angry hasn’t been paying attention.
Whether Biden believes it or not, political anger, especially in times like these, can be constructive. Of course, it can also be destructive when mixed with hate in the way Trump has wielded it. But hateful anger is different from constructive anger.
If you’re looking for proof that rage can be constructive, in the past two years, at least three books have been written specifically on the political power of women’s anger, including Rebecca Traister’s Good and Mad, Brittney Cooper’s Eloquent Rage and Soraya Chemaly’s Rage Becomes Her. Constructive anger was also seen in the 2018 midterms (how quickly we forget) and helped flip the House of Representatives out of Trump’s control.
Speaking of women’s anger, consider the anger women across the country are feeling right now as Georgia and Alabama move to ban abortion in their states. To dismiss that as Trumpian is a false equivalence and, frankly, gaslighting. Notably, Biden did not mention the assault on abortion rights, only passively mentioning “a woman’s right to choose,” but he has been a flip-flopping supporter of abortion anyway. He has repeatedly voted for the Hyde Amendment to ban federal funding for abortion and voted in 1981 to allow states to reverse Roe v. Wade. He seemed to evolve during his time with Obama, but his relative silence on the issue at the rally to kick off his campaign during this week especially is not encouraging.
Biden also signaled that he, somehow, could be the one to pass bipartisan legislation through Congress. “I know how to go toe-to-toe with the GOP,” he said, “but it can’t be that way on every issue… Let’s stop fighting and start fixing.”
Biden’s pitch comes down to: I’ve done it before, so I can do it now. Sure, that sounds nice, but it’s completely unrealistic to expect bipartisanship from today’s Republican Party whose win-at-any-cost ethos got us a Trump presidency. And it’s also unrealistic to expect Democrats to calm down when their rights are under assault.
“The threat to democracy is real,” Biden said near the end of his speech. He’s right. But women, and Black women in particular, have been the backbone of the Democratic Party. If the threat to democracy, the Trump presidency, and the assault on women’s rights don’t make Biden angry, who is he fighting for?