Ah, Normalcy. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen you. But: How long you staying?
After three years — it seems like a century — of Donald the Crazy, Donald the Cruel, Donald the Destroyer, it is a new feeling, but not entirely unfamiliar, this feeling of normalcy, to see Joe Biden’s smiling and familiar face, “Uncle Joe,” pop up on the TV screen as the winner of state after state, 10 out of 14 in play, this Super Tuesday.
As the night wore on, I had a vision of normalcy spreading across the map — from Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Texas (Texas?).
And after a year of a crowded and increasingly rancorous Democratic presidential campaign — it too feels like it’s been waged a century — the race was shaping up, pre-Super Tuesday, as a final showdown between two very angry men: Bernie Sanders, democratic socialist who disdains the Democratic party label and vows a “political revolution,” versus Donald Trump, belching human furnace of craziness, cruelty, destruction.
That distressing prospect was captured by The Economist’s current cover, showing Sanders and Trump in full bellow mode and headlined: “American Nightmare: Could It Come to This?” (Note the cowering Uncle Sam.)
Contrasted with these two angry men, moderate Joe Biden is so….refreshing. Ah, Normalcy.
Am I equating normalcy with nice-guy equanimity, with not-shouting? Maybe. America has been hopping angry for years now — I called 2016 “the Anger Election” — but all this anger has illuminated nothing, it has forced us far from our best selves, far from any semblance of normalcy. At our best, Americans prize normalcy.
Amidst all this anger and sub-normalcy, then, is it really any wonder that, given the chance, millions of Democrats reacted — in the moment, during the 72-hour span of a remarkable realignment of the electoral stars — and opted on Super Tuesday for the candidate who epitomizes normalcy: Joe Biden, son of Scranton PA, Uncle Joe?
About that realignment of the stars: Biden, who’d performed poorly in the debates and in the voting in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, banked everything on South Carolina, with its large African-American population who esteem him as Barack Obama’s vice-president and wingman. With Congressman James Clyburn endorsing him as “a good man,” Biden won a smashing victory, enough to cause rivals Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to drop out and endorse him, all of which provided Biden that priceless political asset — momentum — to prevail three days later on Super Tuesday.
In that 72-hour span, millions of moderate Democrats, if they’d been supporting “Mayor” Pete or Klobuchar, had to rethink their vote. Reportedly, blocking both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders was the deciding factor, making Joe Biden “a safe place to go.” Going into that recalculation, no doubt, was the unnerving sight of Trump’s “handling” of the coronavirus epidemic. When life upends the landscape, and mortal peril lurks, it is understandable a voter would opt for normalcy.
I have been critical of Biden in the past, especially his condescension to Anita Hill in the Clarence Thomas hearing which he chaired; but he has since apologized — to her. As for Biden’s debate performances: It seemed he was trying too hard or not hard enough; either way, the elan vital was missing. I kept hoping the former Senator or former Vice-President would show up, because that Joe Biden is the institutionalist who could reconstruct our government that Donald Trump has damaged so badly, and that Joe Biden is the statesman who could reconnect America with the world that Donald Trump has so rudely blown off. Just having back on the world stage an American who is normal, and not a narcissistic blowhard, would be a gift.
Who knows if Biden can ride his momentum — or what his campaign is calling “Joe-mentum” — all the way to the nomination? And should he get the nomination, there is Donald Trump the Arch-Bully (and his Republican confederates) lying in wait. We all know how it goes, from Time Immemorial, for the nice guy.
And who knows how long this embrace of normalcy will last? America has gone through such churn since 9/11, that we are sometimes unrecognizable to ourselves (Nazi flags in Charlottesville?). We have plumbed the depths and found out how much crazy there is in these “United” States of America. It’s a good bet there’s more.
I know my progressive friends will disagree with my conferring the normalcy crown on Biden. Their argument will be that Bernie’s “political revolution” is the “new normal” that America needs, and some of that argument is valid, especially the part about income inequality. But Bernie has not provided us with something so normal as a road-map to his New Day; he has provided a price-tag, but not a road-map.
And temperament in a President is key, as we are reminded daily by the current barking-mad occupant of the White House. Bernie (and Trump) are tabasco-hot, while Joe Biden is oatmeal-normal. Progressives, and Trumpians, will make a big mistake if they underestimate the yearning for normalcy among a wide swath of their countrymen — Democratic moderates, Independents, swing voters, disaffected Republicans.
Because: In the instinctual preference for normalcy manifested so clearly on Super Tuesday, the body politic is signaling the kind of America we desperately want back. We want America the Normal again. Don’t be surprised if oatmeal wins in November.