‘Uncle Joe’ should call it a day

March 31, 2019 8:47 am
joe's big day

Lucy Flores and Joe Biden at a campaign event in Las Vegas in 2014. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Joe Biden’s prospective presidential campaign was already making eyes roll before former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores took to the internet Friday and described how Biden planted “a big slow kiss on the back of my head” at a 2014 campaign event.

Over the years, video of Biden nuzzling, pawing and kissing women have arguably sparked more amusement than outrage, viewed not so much as proof that Biden is a wolf or a creep but, as one observer characterized it, a “human golden retriever.” Old Uncle Joe. Ain’t he a hoot? That sort of thing.

Biden tapped into that persona in statement he released Sunday morning. “In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort, he said. “And not once — never — did I believe I acted inappropriately.”

What Biden might “believe” — or has never believed as the case may be — is not the crux of the matter, a point Flores herself trenchantly addressed in her account:

…despite the steady stream of pictures and the occasional article, Biden retained his title of America’s Favorite Uncle. On occasion that title was downgraded to America’s Creepy Uncle but that in and of itself implied a certain level of acceptance. After all, how many families just tolerate or keep their young children away from the creepy uncle without ever acknowledging that there should be zero tolerance for a man who persistently invades others’ personal space and makes people feel uneasy and gross? In this case, it shows a lack of empathy for the women and young girls whose space he is invading, and ignores the power imbalance that exists between Biden and the women he chooses to get cozy with.

Biden’s avuncularity isn’t a feature. It’s a bug.

Ten months before anyone will cast a vote, Biden has been leading Democrats in polls, but on one level the long term prospects of a Biden candidacy have always been difficult to take very seriously. From his fumbling of the Anita Hill hearings to his abortion rights record to his vote for giving the Bush administration a blank check to invade and occupy Iraq … even to his description a few weeks ago of Mike Pence as a “decent guy,” Biden looks awfully out of touch with Democratic voters. Yes, they want to beat Trump. But there is scant indication they are interested in going backward in the process.

Meanwhile, it would be ironic if revelations from a former Nevada politician helps end Biden’s campaign before it begins.

2014 was a farce

Flores was the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor in 2014, a year that was, if you’ll recall, a humiliating farce for Democrats, aka the Reid Machine.

Bereft of significant policy differences with Brian Sandoval, Democrats and Harry Reid declined to run anyone for governor. Instead, the election cycle was … ridiculous. The race between Flores and Republican Mark Hutchison for lieutenant governor was being sold as a proxy between Reid and Sandoval. The argument, inasmuch as there was one, held that if a Republican won the lieutenant governor’s race, then Sandoval would be free and clear to run against Reid for Senate in 2016. Ah, but if a Democrat won the LG job, that means a Democrat would become governor if Sandoval beat Reid, thus tying Sandoval to the governor’s office for his entire second term and protecting Harry. So get out there and vote for Lucy Flores!

It was absurd. Sandoval had given no indication that he wanted to be a senator. And Reid of course didn’t even even end up running in 2016. Democratic voters checked out, and Republicans won everything, including both houses of the Legislature.

The 2014 omnishambles underscored two truths that have characterized the Nevada Democratic Party throughout the current century. First, it has existed mostly as a wholly owned subsidiary of Harry Reid. And second (and not unrelated to the first) the party has been mostly a policy void, stubbornly reluctant to offer alternatives to Republican initiatives at the state level, out of fear that doing so might upset some imaginary swing voter in Henderson..

Sandoval took office amid the depth of the Great Recession. His response was to cut spending on education and social services, all Herbert Hoover like. At the same time, he cut taxes on business. Boasted one business lobbyist, “My big guys will be paying the same, and all my little guys will be paying nothing.”

That is the policy for which Nevada Democrats had no answer in 2014. The centerpiece of the Democratic policy response to the economic collapse was … film tax credits.

Nevada Democratic paucity of policy has been driven by a combination of ideological moderation and a palpable fear of the electorate, a combination that was on display again last summer when given a choice between a progressive and moderate in the primary for governor, Nevada Democrats opted for the moderate because he was the “electable” one.

In the 2020 field, Biden’s casting himself as the play-it-safe moderate.

Hype and caution

It’s not as if Flores was running for lieutenant governor in 2014 on a bold policy program. But then, nobody runs for Nevada lieutenant governor on a bold policy program. She was, however, in an unwinnable situation. As the writing on the wall became clear the Reid Machine all but abandoned the final weeks of the campaign.

Flores took one for the team — or the machine, as it were.

You’d think the machine would have shown some gratitude.

But no.

One casualty of the Democratic Party’s farcical 2014 election cycle was Rep. Steven Horsford, who had won Nevada’s newly created fourth congressional district two years before. In 2016, Flores ran in the Democratic primary for that seat. But Reid and his Machine instead backed … Ruben Kihuen.

There’s a lot of Democratic Party hype in Nevada these days. The blue wave. The first state in the nation with a majority female legislature. The “first in the West” presidential contest that will force candidates to confront an electorate far more diverse than those in Iowa and New Hampshire.

But Nevada Democrats have always been a cautious lot, ever striving to play it safe. It is entirely too easy to imagine them caucusing for Joe Biden next February.

There would be some measure of poetic justice, and frankly some measure of amusement, if Flores exerts more influence on the presidential race than the Nevada Democratic Party and its beloved caucus, and awakens Uncle Joe to the fact that he is yesterday’s man.

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Hugh Jackson
Hugh Jackson

Hugh Jackson was editor of the Las Vegas Business Press, senior editor at the Las Vegas CityLife weekly newspaper, daily political commentator on the Las Vegas NBC affiliate, and author of the Las Vegas Gleaner political blog. Prior to moving to Las Vegas, he was a reporter and editor at the Casper (Wyoming) Star-Tribune.