Alexander Pope once instructed us about the risks of damning someone with faint praise. Mark Z. Barabak at the Los Angeles Times may have skipped school on the day they taught that particular lesson judging by his column this week in which he sings, or at least hums the praises of Joe Biden as a more formidable opponent for Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton was in 2016. The author’s approach to making this point starts out in a rather curious fashion. He begins by listing a number of things about Joe Biden that should make him a rather unpalatable candidate including his advanced age and his penchant for unfortunate remarks. But he then goes on to almost literally say, hey… but at least he’s not Hillary, amirite?

Joe Biden is old. He has a paper trail reaching back half a century. He is, by his own admission, a “gaffe machine” who regularly trips over his own tongue.

He is not, however, as widely and viscerally disliked as the last Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and that’s complicating President Trump’s reelection effort.

The incumbent is deeply unpopular and, if history is a guide, stands little chance of drastically changing those sentiments by election day.

His best — and possibly only — chance of winning a second term is making Biden seem the more unpalatable of the two; turning the election, in the political shorthand, into a choice between candidates rather than a referendum on Trump’s personality and performance.

Barabak goes on to say Trump’s victory in 2016 can at least in part be credited to “making” Hillary Clinton even more unlikeable than he was. He describes Republican opinions, casting Clinton as “a figure of almost singular villainy.” As evidence, he offers polling from this stage of the 2016 campaign showing Hillary Clinton’s favorability to be underwater by a hefty margin, 40/55. Biden, on the other hand, is nearly dead even at 45/46. (Trump falls between the two currently at 43/55.)

The author then veers back to where he started, listing a number of reasons why people of either party or none might find Uncle Joe objectionable. He’s seen as too centrist for progressives, or too ready to compromise and work with Republicans by party hardliners. The phrases “doddering Obama administration relic” and “glad-handing phony” are invoked. I’m not entirely sure, but the ship may have sailed past the “faint praise” stage at this point.

To be fair, there’s not much to argue with in Barabak’s column for the most part. While there’s plenty to complain about – particularly for conservatives or anyone worried about handing off the nuclear football to someone who frequently can’t finish a sentence after mid-afternoon – Joe Biden still manages to project that likable image of good ole’ Uncle Joe. Always ready with a smile and firm handshake, at least until he novel coronavirus hit. I’ve commented on it myself here in the past. At least until fairly recently, while we probably agree on almost nothing politically, I’ve always found Biden to be the sort of guy I wouldn’t mind sitting down with over a beer and shooting the breeze.

As to Clinton, however, I would take issue with Barabak. I don’t think Republican efforts or Trump campaign ads had much if anything to do with her sour reputation. She managed to tank her own reputation along the way without needing a push from the opposition. Her entire email scandal made her look sneaky and dishonest. The Benghazi debacle didn’t do much for her reputation either. And when she wasn’t pasting on her ready-for-TV smile, she always seemed to be glowering about something, as if she was ready to just give you a piece of her mind as soon as the press wasn’t around.

Yes, Hillary was hard to like, and that worked to Trump’s benefit. (And the rest of the nation’s, if I may be so bold as to say so.) But I still fail to see how improved likability alone gets Joe Biden over the finish line. If the economy manages even a reasonable recovery by the fall and we’re not literally hit with a supervolcano or a plague of locusts (not writing either one off yet, sports fans), I wouldn’t count Trump out of this fight. The left is currently in the process of endorsing an abandonment of the rule of law and Biden is allowing himself to be carried along in that current. And I somehow doubt very much of America wants to sign on for four years of that.