The Woman Who Helped Save Joe BidenBreaking News
tags: African American history, Senate, Joe Biden, 2020 Election, Carol Moseley Braun
Biden is 77 now. In this unlikely last act, after 3½ decades in the Senate and two terms as vice president, he is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee at what is shaping up to be a transformative moment in the history of this country. As Biden attempts to navigate social and political chop of a kind that hasn’t been seen since the ‘60s, as he makes his case in the midst of coast-to-coast civil rights protests and a pandemic and the corresponding economic crash that have laid bare abiding and systemic inequities, once again he is contending with unfavorable perceptions that he has mistreated women and is prone to racial gaffes and bears no small share of the blame for America’s prejudiced criminal justice system as the architect of the punitive 1994 crime bill. And yet once again, too, he also is positioned to make important, even historic choices—none at the moment more momentous than the person he selects as his potential vice president. Biden has pledged that his running mate will be a woman, and because of the unprecedented events of the past several months, and because of political pressure from key constituencies within his own party, and even because of Biden’s own sense of obligation to make meaningful change, there is a high chance the woman he picks will be a woman of color.
And if he does, the story of his relationship with Carol Moseley Braun in the early 1990s presents a newly salient look at both the candidate and how influential, too, a new person with a fresh perspective can be—once she’s in the job. According to more than 30 interviews with aides to Biden and Moseley Braun, plus operatives, activists, strategists and political scientists, it highlights a complicated truth about the candidate: Some see in Biden self-interest, while others see high-mindedness and a genuine want to right a wrong—but the most intellectually honest observers grant that it’s obviously both.
“Sure, it was in his interest to go after Carol Moseley Braun to kind of rehabilitate himself a little after Clarence Thomas, but he also understood the moment that we were in as a country and that he needed to evolve,” Matt Bennett, an executive vice president at the centrist think tank Third Way, told me. “If he wanted to be president, he needed to be in touch with the times, both for the party and for the country, and he recognized that he was out of step, I think, in the Anita Hill moment. And he changed.”
“The Senate is an institution that does not like change. The easiest thing to do in the Senate is just stick with the status quo, and if you move at all, you move in micro-inches, incrementally,” former Biden aide Larry Spinelli told me. “And he figured out how to make change, in that way, in those kinds of places,” said Jim Messina, Barack Obama’s 2012 campaign manager who worked with Biden in the Obama administration.
The question remains: Will he make change once again in the same way he did nearly three decades ago?
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