Joe Biden and the art of pretending you are something that you are not
As a general rule, I try to avoid actually watching political debates anymore. They have long since stopped being either useful or meaningful, and the media’s obsession with them as some kind of important guidepost for the campaign is as disappointing as the event is predictable.
Still, considering that the Democrats have now had something like 2,000 debates, it is inevitable that I sometimes accidentally come across them on television. In those cases, the handful of seconds it takes me to reach an emotional panic and fumble for the remote so that I can shut it off is enough time to occasionally hear some really weird stuff.
Take Tuesday night, for instance.
Joe Biden was talking about middle-class Americans having a difficult time affording child care, and the need for universal, government-funded child care.
“I was a single parent, too,” Biden said, in the 5 millionth example of him reminding the American public that his first wife died and that he raised their two sons afterwards.
“When my wife and daughter were killed, my two boys I had to raise. I was a senator, a young senator … And I was making $42,000 a year,” he continued. “I commuted every single solitary day to Wilmington, Delaware — over 500 miles a day, excuse me, 250 miles a day — because I could not afford, but for my family, child care. It was beyond my reach to be able to do it.”
Biden couldn’t possibly be this confused, I thought to myself.
You see, the year he was talking about was 1973, and his base congressional salary was actually $42,500. That sum of money is actually a decent salary today, but it certainly would be a tough one to be able to afford child care on, as a sole income, if you are raising two children with a career.
But he wasn’t talking about today. He was attempting — like he always does — to portray himself as some kind of poor, aw shucks, down-on-his-luck scion of the middle class. He’s just like us, don’t you know? And he wanted to use that meager salary to identify with us. He knows, after all, what it is like to struggle.
Except he doesn’t.
In 1973, $42,500 was a hell of a lot of money. Adjusted for inflation, that salary would be worth more than $251,233 per year. And that, of course, doesn’t account for any of the congressional perks, the gold-plated health care plan, the per diems, the travel allowances, or any of the other things that add significant value to that job.
Now, to be fair to Biden, while that salary is very high, I certainly don’t begrudge him wealth. I don’t consider that “mega rich,” nor do I want to punish people in that earning bracket the way that Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and the rest of the Democrats do.
Nor do I think that you have to have been destitute to understand destitution. You can be a good and compassionate leader even if you don’t know first hand what it is like to live a certain way.
But politicians like Biden know that people love it when you are “like them” in some way, and so he has repeatedly tried to portray himself as just a regular ol’ hard hat-wearing, lunch bucket-taking, blue-collar guy who went to Washington to represent people just like him.
Don’t let him fool you. He is one of the elite of the elite in this country, and has been for most of his life. If you and your family are just trying to make ends meet and are having a hard time, he has no more idea what it is like to live like you than any of the billionaires running for president.
But there’s one key difference: they aren’t trying to be something they aren’t. Joe Biden is, and he thinks you are too stupid to notice.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.