The questions aren’t just about Biden’s years in office. Responding in April to the women who accused him of unwelcome physical contact, Biden acknowledged that he’d come up in a different era, and that he knew he’d need to change with the changing times. He snaps sometimes. He can ramble. The references can be dated, as when shortly after he launched his campaign, he mixed up Theresa May and Margaret Thatcher. When he has these gaffes, rivals and pundits ascribe added significance. He is deft with selfies, but also defends himself by pointing out things like being the deciding vote on the Gurney Amendment (which happened in 1974). Since he entered the race this spring, he’s spent more days off the trail than on (though, notably, he often meets with supporters for longer than his rivals, and on the day of that big fish-fry event in South Carolina two Fridays ago, he was the last candidate to leave).
Then there was his exchange with Senator Kamala Harris of California at last week’s debate, when she went after him for his opposition to public-school busing in the 1970s. Biden’s surprised response prompted a number of people to use the words old and weak with me. Calling him out of touch and unapologetic is how the Harris campaign has kept going after him, even as Biden and his aides have responded by calling her grasping and opportunistic (including by pointing to comments on Wednesday in which Harris got tangled up trying to give her own position on busing).
Or there’s the story he told last weekend at a Seattle fundraiser, of how it would have been okay to make fun of a “gay waiter” five years ago. He told the same story in 2014, as having been okay 15 years before. Five years ago, he illustrated the story with an imitation of the waiter, with a put-on lisp.