Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"The vice president looks back — and forward"

Here are snippets from Jonathan Alter’s interview with Joe Biden: ‘I Wish to Hell I’d Just Kept Saying the Exact Same Thing’.

Trump and international affairs

Related to another post in this blog today, Biden shares his views on Trump, Russia, and Eastern Europe.

Biden’s biggest worry is that Trump, for all his bluster, could be a global bystander, unwilling to engage a messy world with anything more than chest-thumping. “The question I get everywhere is: ‘Is American leadership going to continue?’ ” he told me on Air Force Two. If Trump “just stays behind the lines — hands off — it could be very ugly. Very, very ugly.”

In July, the president of Latvia asked Biden to fly there as soon as possible and give a televised speech assuring the Baltic states that the United States would fulfill its NATO obligations and defend them against a Russian invasion. He did so, emphatically, but his promises offer little comfort post-Election Day. The prospect of Vladimir Putin fulfilling his dream of re-establishing Russian hegemony over Eastern Europe is not far from Biden’s mind. “Now if we walk away — Hungary, Poland, even the Baltic states, these guys all start to hedge their bets,” he said.

On Trump: “It’s like a Rubik’s cube trying to figure this guy out,” Biden sighed. “We have no freakin’ idea what he’s gonna do.”

On the election

[From] the speech he had given at the Democratic National Convention in July. He told me he had been rereading it. He began reciting aloud: “If you live in neighborhoods like the one Jill and I grew up in, if you worry about your job and getting decent pay. …” His voice accelerated. “If you worry about your children’s education, if you’re taking care of an elderly parent, there’s only one person in this race who. …” He looked up at me and sighed. “I wish to hell I’d just kept saying the exact same thing.”

Biden was afflicted with regret. He was sorry that, on the campaign trail, he had spoken so often about Donald Trump’s unfitness for office and not enough about what Hillary Clinton would do for the middle class. He was sorry he didn’t push harder inside the White House for a middle-class tax cut. And he was still torn over his decision not to run for president, a race that he said would have been “brutal” but that he also believed he could have won.

On his political future and the Democratic party

The big question now is when, and how, they will re-enter the arena. Obama has already said that, unlike George W. Bush, he won’t refrain from commenting on his successor. Biden may go further. Amid discussion of resistance to Trump, he surprised me with talk of 2020, when he’ll turn 78. “I’ll run,” the vice president deadpanned, “if I can walk.” Three days later, he informed the Washington press corps that he wasn’t joking.

Biden isn’t likely to run, but keeping the door ajar gives him a bigger voice in Democratic Party debates. The one that worries him most is over repositioning to win back Trump voters. He has little patience with Democrats who want to move either left or right. “ ‘We gotta move to the center,’ ‘We gotta move to those white guys,’ ‘We gotta move to those working-class people’ or ‘We gotta double down on the social agenda.’ ” It’s a false choice, he said: “They are totally compatible. I have never said anything to the A.C.L.U. that I wouldn’t say to the Chamber of Commerce.”

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