Editorial: Biden displays the better kind of authenticity

Last modified: Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Donald Trump’s supporters often cite his authenticity as the big draw. That is how starved voters are for a candidate who appears to be his or her own person: They’re willing to embrace a billionaire’s hubris just because it feels unscripted.

No matter that he can’t seem to stop himself from insulting women.

No matter that he dismisses the military service of a respected senator and former POW.

No matter that he’s perfectly willing to let his future advisers do his foreign policy thinking for him.

When you have a candidate as “real” as Trump, feelings are going to get hurt, right? Why speak softly and carry a big stick when it’s so much more satisfying to rant loudly and drive a bulldozer?

Meanwhile, Trump’s Republican opponents have struggled to create a counter-narrative. Every time they try to shift attention away from the sideshow and toward the issues, Trump steals their microphone and shouts them off the stage. In poll after poll, the audience roars its approval.

Last week, as Trump continued to dole out his punishing form of authenticity, an interesting moment unfolded on late-night television. Vice President Joe Biden appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and reminded Americans of their common humanity amid this most inhumane of political seasons.

Biden’s son, Beau, died in May of brain cancer. Every day since, the vice president has suffered terribly. He misses his boy. Ask any parent, Republican or Democrat, to imagine outliving their child and their anguish is immediately palpable. Life isn’t supposed to work that way.

As Biden spoke of his pain, the familiar set design of late-night TV seemed to morph into a two-man stage drama about love and loss, tragedy and perseverance. There were no traces of the politician, just a man experiencing unbearable loss.

But Biden the politician talked, too, and was no less authentic. His answer to the question of whether he plans to run for president may not have been the bombshell some hoped for, but an electorate starving for anything resembling truth could not have been disappointed: “I don’t think any man or woman should run for president,” Biden said, “unless, No. 1, they know exactly why they would want to be president and two, they can look at the folks out there and say, ‘I promise you, you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy and my passion to do this.’ And I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there.”

We hope that when Biden arrives at his self-imposed deadline to make a decision, he is ready to jump into the race. There is no such thing as too many qualified candidates.

But if the moment of truth arrives and the wound is still too fresh, we hope the vice president will continue to talk publicly and from the heart about the loss of his son and the process of healing. After all, the latest polls tell us the American people still have a lot to learn about what an authentic person – politician or otherwise – really looks like.