The first time. In the primary.
For me, it all came down to something a lady said to me at a party. And it was a decision I truly did not make until I was in the voting booth, which is the first time that’s ever happened. March 3rd was also the last time I was in a voting booth, as COVID-19 changed my voting habits after that.
I’ll get back to what that lady said to me in a minute.
First, I want to give a shout out to Massachusetts, where I’m a resident, and which has been under-acknowledged as the place that really helped Biden pull himself together as a legit candidate.
Yes, Biden had gained momentum heading into Super Tuesday by convincingly winning South Carolina. Leading to howls from some of my ultra-Liberal friends about how primary voters in states Democrats have no shot at carrying in the general election should somehow not count for as much.
Before then, Biden had done really bad in the early primaries. And swirling around him were constant rumors that he was about to run out of money and throw in the towel.
Come Super Tuesday, Biden was considered a real long shot in Massachusetts. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were thought to be the real powerhouse contenders here. I remember at one point when I first looked at Biden, I found fivethirtyeight giving him only a 10% chance of winning the Mass primary, and I wondered if a vote for him here would just amount to me wasting it my vote.
Meanwhile, you may remember, Trump was out doing rallies in states that were holding Democratic primaries, usually on the night before the primary, as a way of counter-programming. He really didn’t have to. And as much as I don’t like to admit I’ve been influenced by Trump, he also used those rallies to test out various insults and attacks on Democratic candidates, so you kind of were able to get a feel for what might stick. This was absolutely a tactical error on Trump’s part. And also made it very clear he was most afraid of a challenge from Biden, because he kept insisting that’s who he was least afraid of.
Bernie Sanders had been my choice back in 2016, but I only briefly considered him this time. Not entirely, but in part because Trump’s “he’s crazier than I am” schtick seemed to resonate. And if you’re headed into an election that in large part is sure to be a referendum on “crazy”, not sure that’s the right candidate to back in that circumstance. For the record, I do not think Bernie Sanders is crazy. Just that he was wrong for the moment.
And the “least racist” man in America’s “Pocahontas” attacks on Elizabeth Warren also seemed to be working. She really never successfully distanced from her unfortunate lie or at least profound exaggeration about her heritage. Still, I was about 90% sure she’d be my candidate as Super Tuesday neared. I liked her approach to banks, and unfailing support of consumers. I also liked her beautiful and brutal dismantling of Michael Bloomberg, who just thought he’d walk in at the last minute, as the anti-Trump, and walk away with the whole thing.
But then, the two seemed to get locked into a death spiral of mutual destruction, and an inexplicable inability to move beyond that. I also factored in that although Warren represents Massachusetts in the Senate, and would probably be re-elected easily again and again, a lot of people around here really don’t like her. In part because she’s always viewed as being more interested in “bigger things”, and not all that interested in just representing the state. While I realize there’s more than an ounce of sexism in that, it’s really real here, and something I felt could be a real negative.
Kamala Harris, my original choice, was long gone at that point. Pete Buttigieg had just dropped out. But he’d stuck around long enough that he was someone I also seriously considered for a while. Before deciding he wasn’t quite experienced enough.
However, between then and now, he has grown so much as a politician. And in my mind at least, is beginning to verge on the inspirational.
OK, so now finally we’re back to the lady at the party. It was an outdoor barbecue at my friend’s house not too far away, sometime in the summer of 2016. The lady was older than me—maybe in her 70s—the wife of an esteemed local doctor, and White.
And here’s what she said to me at that party in 2016:
“That Donald Trump is just such a disgusting, vile man. But Hillary is SO horrible, I guess we have no choice but to vote for him.”
And as I entered the voting booth on the morning of March 3rd, that flashed into my mind. And I couldn’t help but ask myself:
“Which one of them would she be OK voting for over Trump?”
And only one answer came back.
And you know, if you read my stuff, this is exactly the opposite of what I preach. I firmly believe Americans are almost always seeking someone transformative in a Presidential candidate. That’s why we elected Obama. That’s why we elected Trump. Qualifications and experience often count for very little. But maybe this time, as I said, crazy was going to play a big part in it, and big ideas might not be as important as someone who would be respectful and decent.
And one more thing: I remembered Biden’s proposal in the early 2000s, before he was Vice-President, to fund the building of thousands of secular schools in places like Iraq and in Pakistan. Never happened. Even though it would’ve cost pennies compared to the many billions or more the U.S. has since spent on military in that part of the world.
Biden’s idea being that if the U.S. didn’t find money to fund education, people in places like Saudi Arabia would. Only the motive behind their investment would be to spread fundamentalism. Which is exactly what happened. It’s impossible to measure how many students became radicalized because of these efforts, and how many wouldn’t have been if the schools Biden proposed had actually been built. But it did remind me of something about the man: he realized that parents all over the world would just want their kids to get an education. Many were not fundamentalists themselves, but if that’s what was available to see their kids get an education, that’s the path they would take. If there had been an alternative, great. But there wasn’t.
So Biden proposing something like that, which could’ve accomplished so much, and perhaps removed some danger from the world, came not from exclusively thinking as a politician. But more perhaps from thinking as a parent. And that left an indelible impression on me.
And that—and yes, also what the lady said—got Biden my vote that day. And a lot of other people in Massachusetts must’ve had some kind of similar thoughts too, because he won the primary here handily. And a few months later, the Presidency.