There has always been a thawing-out-of-something-frozen quality to a potential Joe Biden candidacy, an understanding that the man himself might be out of step with these times, but that anachronism might serve him—and the Democratic Party—well. Hardscrabble Scranton Joe, after all, was never going to be the Gen Xer who live-streams his teeth cleanings, but he’s the guy who remembers what it was like to make an honest dollar for an honest day’s work on the assembly line.
This is why Biden is the front-runner, despite having not yet declared his candidacy. Some part of the Democratic establishment believes that his ability to conjure the past might somehow return a deeply divided country to consensus politics—mostly through his presumed ability to win back the white working-class Clinton voter of 1992 who morphed into the Trump voter of 2016. Underlying that belief is a somewhat desperate hope for these fractious times: Biden will return the country to a more peaceable union, where the differences between Americans no longer exceed the differences between America and the rest of the world (or America and the rest of the Milky Way, for that matter).
Inevitably, though, Biden’s age and his career and his old-timer’s disposition have brought with them other, less appealing realities: controversial positions steeped in the divisive politics of the past, support for policies and personalities later proved to be deeply problematic, and public behavior that has remained largely uncensored and unchecked since he first entered the political arena.