THE MISSING MAN

As Hillary Clinton pointed out during the debate this week, if we’re alive and learning, it’s perfectly normal that some of us might change viewpoints of problems facing the nation today.

We’re not giving up entirely, although we’re tempted. For more than a year we’ve been forecasting that Ms. Clinton would not run for the Democratic nomination, and that if she did, she wouldn’t win.

Hmmph!

And yet…and yet…. Mrs. Clinton was indeed triumphant on Tuesday night last. She positively glowed in her power, her recall, her wit. It was by far her best performance in four years. There was almost nothing she couldn’t drag up to her consciousness. She hit every stop on the organ. And it was music to the Democrats in Las Vegas.

Who, incidentally, put on a show that was unrivalled by anything the Republicans have been able to do lately. Usually, we depend on the Republicans for showmanship – make that posturing, pretense, costuming, music, background. They have consistently run better and more energetic, more photogenic national conventions.

Not last Tuesday. The convention center in one of Las Vegas’ gambling paradises was jammed with men and women on fire to demonstrate their enthusiasm for their side of the aisle. They gave a definite lift to those of us who expected so much less.

We’re not rating the other speakers on that stage, except to say that perhaps Bernie Sanders was having an off-night.

But we do want to address The Missing Man controversy.

Like millions of other voters, the idea of Joe Biden running for president has (for weeks) been elevating our hopes. Although we thought it unlikely early on, the longer he waited, the heavier our expectations.

But he waited too long. Either from real lack of conviction for the tasks ahead – after all, who besides Mrs. Clinton, her husband, and the Bushes, Obamas, and Carters – knows more than Mr. Biden about the stresses and strains of national public office and what they require —- or from native caution and curiosity to see how the first debate played out —- Mr. Biden has watched the smoke rising from Rome, his fingers on his lyre.

For us as a nation to respond to his clear talent and drive, his experience, his character, we needed help from him. And we haven’t yet got it.

Presumably he’s torn. With tragedy so recently coloring every day he wakes, Biden seems unable to genuinely look at the future with the determination and hope we require.

We don’t blame him. We’re disappointed, to be sure. And in a way heart-broken that he’s putting himself through this entire exercise.

But by not declaring in the affirmative before the debate, Biden has shown us something we hate to see from anyone: politics. He could have declined immediately and retained our respect and affection. Or he might have cleared his throat, rubbed his hands together eagerly, and made the leap. That he has chosen to do neither minimizes his differences with Mrs. Clinton or indeed with any other candidate of either party.

As other commentators have pointed out, there’s still time.

We don’t agree.

What made Joe Joe wasn’t fear of failure. It was his ability to take chances and survive, take chances and build. Having weathered the long-ago Neil Kinnock brou-ha-ha, for which he had only himself to blame, Joe Biden settled into a man of character whose word meant something, whose ideas might have been in the minority but were nonetheless exceptional. In a way, Biden’s terms as senator resembled those of Teddy Kennedy who, finally throwing off the Kennedy mantle of expectation, settled into being the best senator he could be. And for which he was revered.

The last thing we want to see happen now is Mr. Biden’s late entry into a race that seems (we hate to admit it) to have been won. We do not want to see him diminished in any way. It’s critical that he remain who and what he is, a man of vision and bravery, worth our attention and time.

As for Ms. Clinton, the game is hers to win or lose. Assuming she herself has learned about the world in new ways since 2012, it’s perfectly possible she’ll win at last.

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