Why Joe Biden gets away with it

Any politician with a record as long as Biden’s has to tell this “evolution” story convincingly and well. Biden’s success on this score is spotty. His appeal despite that makes it interesting. In a weird way, his frankness about his self-contradictions—“I make no apologies for my last position. I make no apologies for what I’m about to say,” he said Thursday as he reversed himself on the Hyde Amendment—bestows upon him a kind of flexibility that allows him to claim (for example) that he won’t accept donations from corporate lobbyists, and then kick off his campaign with a fundraiser held at the home of the head of lobbying for Comcast.

People support Biden for a lot of reasons (a desire to beat Trump counts). But a significant part of his success has been getting much of the public to see his flaws and lies as lovable, well-meaning, and proof of his honesty (which these days means something more like “authenticity”). This is prime political terrain very few figures manage to carve out. In the authoritative book about the 1988 campaign, What It Takes, for instance, Richard Ben Cramer gives a remarkably positive spin to Biden’s lies about marching for civil rights while his advisers (who had warned him to stop) look on. “Still, this was also the reason they were working for Biden,” he writes, “for the abandon with which he stretched himself (and not just by exaggeration) to touch a thousand lives a day … for the talent, extravagant effort, the generosity of spirit that made every event with Biden a festival of inclusion.”