House of Cards was a gripping Netflix drama, one that took the crooked machinations of politics in Washington and elevated it to a new, low level. And certainly, the allegations of abuse levelled at the main protagonist, Kevin Spacey, only served to enhance the show’s portrayal of gritty party politics and sexual masquerades.
Surely Washington wasn’t like that.
The originators of the show, who took the original mid-1980s series from Britain and re-located it to the American capital and Capitol, were said to have based some of the political manoeuvring on the real-life surrounding Joe Biden. Whether that’s true, false, fake news or a good old fashion spinning of a yarn, it certainly didn’t do any favours for the two-term former Vice-President of United States. Earlier last week, Biden threw his hat into the rather crowded field of Democratic hopefuls who want to take on President Donald Trump in a good old fashioned slugfest.
Kid gloves? Forget it. If this was a saloon brawl in an old fashioned western, there’d be cowboys flying through the window into the dirt of the main street. Or, as Johnny Cash sang it in A Boy Named Sue, “kickin’ and a gougin’ in the mud, the blood and the beer”.
Biden is a political scrapper, a survivor, one who represents the party of the Democratic party that’s beholden to old interests, unions, blue collar workers. And that’s exactly who the current occupant of the Oval Office appealed to in his campaign to Make America Great Again — the blue collar workers and miners of the rust-bucket states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan who saw their jobs head south to Mexico.
It’s a fight Biden believes he can win, kicking off his campaign tour in Pittsburgh, once a city that made the steel that made America great in the first instance.
Pennsylvania, not far from Biden’s home state of Delaware, is a key battleground state and former industrial hub that backed Trump in 2016. The Republican president is seeking to capture the state again even as Democrats saw wins there in the 2018 congressional elections.
“We are in the battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden said in announcing his intention to run. “I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation, who we are, and I cannot stand by and let that happen.”
Trump responded in a post on Twitter, saying “welcome to the race Sleepy Joe”, slamming Biden’s intelligence.
With Biden positioned to be the chief rival to Bernie Sanders, the self-avowed democratic socialist, the resulting clash could lay bare the conflict in the Democratic Party between its moderate and progressive wings.
Although Biden has yet to lay out policy proposals as a candidate, he backs many causes valued by progressives, including raising the minimum wage, combating climate change, banning assault weapons and free public college.
Given his partnership with Obama, Biden could also affect the candidacy of Senator Kamala Harris of California, who is widely regarded as a serious contender for the nomination.
Biden’s entry also threatens to derail the rise of Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who has benefited from a surge of media coverage in recent weeks. And it further presses candidates such as former housing Secretary Julian Castro of Texas, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, who have failed so far to register with voters, to come up with ways to stay in the game.
Biden failed to gain traction with voters during previous presidential bid in 1988 and 2008. As speculation about his third effort mounted, Biden came under fire for his propensity for touching people at political events, with several women coming forward to say he had made them feel uncomfortable. Biden struggled in his response to the concerns, at times joking about his behaviour. But ultimately he apologised and said he recognised standards for personal conduct had evolved in the wake of #MeToo movement.
Biden’s long history in the Senate, where he was a leading voice on foreign policy, will give liberal activists plenty to criticise. He is the only candidate in the field who voted in support of the Iraq War in 2002.
As Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, he angered women’s rights activists with his handling of sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas by law professor Anita Hill during the judge’s 1991 Supreme Court confirmation hearings.
The question now is whether Biden is yesterday’s man, or has the energy to defeat Trump in the brawl to come.
—With inputs from agencies