Biden is not just bland, but epically bland. Combined with his selection of Harris as running mate—so far a choice that looks both safe and impressive—Biden more than any candidate of the modern era is running not as galvanizing personality but as a composite Democrat. His life story is striking, marked by tragedy and heroic persistence, but his leadership persona is indistinct, elastic. In ordinary times that is an implausible trait for presidential challenger. In extraordinary times, against an incumbent like Donald Trump, it may be an indispensable trait. Trump did not invent the cult of presidential personality, but he is its most bizarre manifestation. A generic politician, wrapped in plain packaging, offers the starkest contrast in modern presidential history.
Biden’s task of deprogramming the cult of the presidency has been helped immeasurably by the coronavirus pandemic. My colleague Chris Suellentrop has a shrewd observation: The appeals of a couple generations of would-be political reformers effectively have been answered in 2020, at least as represented by the Democratic campaign.
Let’s end the permanent campaign, the reformers say, and have short European-style elections. Huddled at home since March, with only episodic appearances, Biden has been fine with that part.