Joe Biden is at it again. The former vice president called a guy “fat.” Not as a descriptive adjective either, but a proper noun. And since Biden’s sparring partner was neither a minor mafioso nor a jazz musician, it’s reasonable to assume this was no term of endearment.
Biden issued the epithet amid a tense exchange with an Iowa voter, who had accused Barack Obama’s vice president of using his office to install his son in the controversial Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. National media became consumed by the political implications of the slur. Biden denied ever saying it. His campaign consultant Symone Sanders took to Twitter, where the cloistered feedback loop was working itself up into a familiar froth, claiming Biden had actually said, “look, facts.” She had no convincing explanation for why, after sizing his interlocutor up, the vice president remarked, “and by the way, that’s why I’m not sedentary.”
But if the only thing media Twitter heard in that exchange was Biden’s insult, the voters he’s targeting heard something very different. This interchange was the first time the candidate had shown any passion in defense of his son’s record. Biden’s Republican critics regularly suggest that Hunter’s affiliations were untoward or even criminal in nature, but the vice president had so far been conspicuously unruffled by what he insists is slander. The dispassion that previously characterized Biden’s response to these attacks on his only surviving son was not reassuring. Maybe there really were some unseemly skeletons in Hunter Biden’s closet. As one Iowa voter told CBS reporter Caitlin Huey-Burns, it was a relief to see some blush return to the former VP’s cheeks. “Would like to see him a little feistier,” the voter confessed. “Don’t mess with family.”
If this is the reaction shared by most potential Biden voters, it wouldn’t be the first time Twitter’s myopic obsession with frivolities and minutiae has obscured the forest for the trees.
Biden’s presidential campaign, we were told, was doomed from its inception amid the re-litigation of the controversy involving Anita Hill’s testimony against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The former VP kicked off his presidential bid by apologizing for “the way she got treated” in 1991, but Biden’s deployment of the passive voice and his refusal to accept responsibility for that treatment enraged his critics.
The #MeToo era’s online activists pronounced it a fatal error, and the pundits took their cues. The Daily Beast’s Margaret Carlson speculated that Biden’s non-apology represented a cardinal sin not just against women but African-American women, in particular; this was a group he could not afford to alienate if he hoped to win his party’s presidential nod. “If he’s smart, he will come up with better answers,” New Yorker’s Jane Mayer advised. But Biden’s support among Democratic women and minorities never collapsed as his critics speculated (or hoped) it would.
By June, Joe Biden’s campaign was again supposedly doomed when he chose to illustrate the lost collegiality that typified interpersonal relations in the upper chamber of Congress by relating how it was once possible to force legislative consensus even with the segregationists in the Democratic caucus. His critics insisted the remark exposed the candidate’s unenlightened racial resentments. Kamala Harris leveraged the remark to land a series of bruising blows on the debate stage. Cory Booker said he was “disappointed” that Biden “hasn’t issued an immediate apology.” But voters hadn’t heard Biden pledge fealty to racists. They heard a melancholy reflection on the lost virtues of American civic life that have been forgotten in the age of Trump—indeed, in part, because of Trump. Today, Harris’s campaign coffers have run dry and she’s out of the race. Booker may not be far behind. But Biden endures.
In the months that have followed, Joe Biden’s mouth has repeatedly gotten him into deep trouble on Twitter, but the real-world consequences that the hermetical media ecosystem envisions never seem to materialize. Biden exposed his allegedly antediluvian conception of the issues affecting the LGBT community when he remarked that the public’s perception of what constitutes that lifestyle is no longer limited to “gay bathhouses.” The nation’s social-media managers were nonplused when Biden claimed that poorer American households need to do more to expose their children to the English language’s extensive lexicon by making sure they “have the record player on at night.” The former vice president enraged his woke detractors by contending that ending domestic violence would require a cultural shift. We must “keep punching at it and punching at it and punching at it,” Biden awkwardly averred. As one headline noted, “the internet was not amused.”
Despite the famous humorlessness of the disproportionally left-leaning regime that polices online discourse, these nonevents did not cripple the Biden campaign. This unduly influential venue seems incapable of evaluating Biden’s candidacy impartially. In fact, it has become a reliably inverse indicator of how less plugged-in voters will react to Biden’s supposed missteps. The confrontation in Iowa is representative of this phenomenon. Biden burst through the grandfatherly fog with an abnormally lucid and pugnacious defense of his family against attacks levied by the sitting Republican president. It requires a uniquely blinkered analysis of the political landscape to see only “fat-shaming” in Biden’s remarks and presume they would turn off Democratic voters.
If Biden’s mouth was going to ruin him, he’d have been ruined long ago. His campaign may yet collapse, but sinning against the inviolable nostrums preferred by the social-justice left won’t be what does it. In truth, his refusal to kowtow to this fraction of the Democratic electorate may be what’s buoying Biden’s candidacy. And that’s probably what Twitter hates most of all.