What Joe Biden and His Supporters Have in Common: Neither Is Paying Much Attention

What Joe Biden and His Supporters Have in Common: Neither Is Paying Much Attention

In my Tuesday On Tap, I noted that of all the leading Democratic presidential candidates, only former Vice President Biden has not come out in favor of the most consequential legislation now pending in any of the 50 state legislatures: California’s Assembly Bill 5, which would require Uber, Lyft, and other companies to reclassify their “independent contractor” drivers as what they really are: employees, and as such, entitled to minimum wage, overtime pay, and so on. The bill, which is up for a final vote in the state Senate no later than next week, is backed by all of California labor, and has vast national implications. Uber, Lyft, and a host of other tech companies whose leaders have often donated to Democrats are, of course, opposed. And on this topic, Biden—the self-proclaimed workers’ friend—has remained characteristically mute.

Indeed, in a year when the Democratic presidential field is abuzz with detailed proposals on one controversial issue after another, Biden’s strategy is to avoid many such controversies, and campaign on a kind of nostalgic appeal to return to the calmer, bipartisan times before Donald Trump befouled the landscape. Never mind that the Republicans have viewed bipartisanship as anathema at least since the Gingrich election of 1994, and that American business went to war against its workers at the end of the 1970s and has yet to call a truce.

But if Biden is offering voters a lowest-common-denominator kind of appeal, he appears to be receiving a lowest-common-denominator kind of support. Though he’s still atop the polls, pollsters and reporters have yet to discover any intensity behind his support. In a sense, he’s running as the default candidate, and he’s getting default support—the backing of Democrats who aren’t paying close attention to the race, who back him because they know who he is and have yet to figure out who all those other Democrats are. That’s probably enough to keep him number one in this year’s polls, but it’s probably not enough to place him first in the Iowa caucuses or the New Hampshire primary, where voters seriously contemplate their choices, and intensity of support is at a premium. So long as Democrats don’t actually have to get out and vote, however, Biden should be doing just fine.