Audrey Young: US President Joe Biden an inspiration for political has-beens


Sleepy Joe Biden, as Donald Trump malignly called him, is a wake-up call to apparent has-beens in politics everywhere.

And it’s a lesson to those of us who are quick to write off politicians as failures.

Successful leaders are sometimes made from unlikely circumstances.

Biden’s career looked to be over six years ago when he had nearly finished his term as Vice-President, and he had been persuaded to give Hillary Clinton a clear run at the Democrats’ nomination. He was getting on, even then.

Now aged 78, he is a fresh hope and inspiration for much of the world, as well as the Covid ravaged United States where 408,382 people have died and another 100,000 could die in a month.

He started to roll out a desperately needed national strategy including a goal to get 100 million people vaccinated in his first 100 days in office.

American exceptionalism threw up a rogue in the disgraced Donald Trump.
He turned an America First ethos into a Trump First nightmare.

Any flaw that Biden has previously displayed has become irrelevant because by comparison with Trump he is experienced, rational, decent and focused on solving crises rather than on himself.

He did what is expected of any respectable leader in declaring that he would govern for all, whether or not they voted for them, just as Jacinda Ardern pledged in October and Britain’s Boris Johnson did in 2019.

Ardern and Biden couldn’t be more different in their path to power: the seven-week sprintfor her versus Biden’s 48-year walk-run marathon.

Watching Biden’s wispy thin hair blowing in the wind at the inauguration was a reminder that while he had got there, it was not at a time of his preference.

Biden declared four times as a Democratic contender to run for president, the first time in 1987, and withdrew three times.

Even in his last and successful run, he was losing so badly at the start he faced calls to give way again to fresher faces. He hung on knowing he would do better with Black voters.

When Biden came to New Zealand in 2016, he was definitely on the way out. He was seen as a liability and was on a tight leash.

He was not an adherent to rigid political discipline and messaging, and was known for putting his foot in it.

So when the State Department managed his visit, they did not include any opportunity for him to take questions after he and Prime Minister John Key had finished their remarks. This was unheard of for such an experienced politician.Newstalk’s Barry Soper managed to shout out aquery and Biden willingly responded on his way out.

Happily for New Zealand, Biden supports multilateral institutions which are so vital to small countries. He is an internationalist with deep global connections.

With loquacious ease, he finds connections with people and countries.

More than once during the visit, he talked about the loss of an uncle in the Pacific in the Second World War and how his grandfather literally straightened up whenever Australia or New Zealand were mentioned.

“No joke, he straightened up. It’s the nature of the relationship we have.”

He even toured Ireland with his brother once to see an All Blacks’ tour. He clearly loved New Zealand before he had ever set foot on it.

While none of that is important as he necessarily focuses on the domestic Americancrisis, his solid appointments in the Administration reflect his own, including respecting international alliances and relationships.

Many people lost respect for the United States over the Trump era.

Biden has restored some of that lost respect because he engenders respect and hope. His age is a source of wisdom, not the handicap it once was.

Age is tolerated better in US politics:Biden is 78, as is Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is 80.

In New Zealand, in both National and Labour, MPs are rarely regarded as an elder statesman unless they have actually left politics. Those that stay are often considereddeadwood. Judith Collin at 61 is a mere spring chicken.

Trevor Mallard, who is 66, in Opposition effectively reinvented a role for himself as Speaker. Despite being one of Helen Clark’s most competent ministers, there was no certainty he would be a minister in a new Labour Government because he was such a veteran. His party was focused on renewal.

National’s Ian McKelvie is the oldest MP now at age 69. New Zealand First Winston Peters was aged 75 when he was voted out in October’s election. The general feeling is he is too old to make another comeback.

While Peters has long been sympathetic to Trump, he may actually take more inspiration from “Sleepy Joe.”

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