The Truth About Joe Biden

“Joe Biden is a lecherous, bumbling, basement dwelling loser who hasn’t accomplished anything over the last 50 years!” Welcome to election 2020! Let the multi-million dollar smear campaign begin. Of course, none of those characterizations of Mr. Biden is fair or true.  This, sadly, is the state of politics in America. Instead of a campaign about ideas we are engaged in a frenzied food fight of ad hominem attacks, hasty generalizations and insults. This is not new. The Jefferson vs. Adams campaign was brutal as this pithy youtube clip demonstrates. Our hope is that we learn from the past, not repeat it.  

I’m sympathetic to how easy it is to assassinate character. It requires hard work to be informed and cognitive dissonance to navigate the complexity of our time. The easier path weakens the republic, absolves us of our responsibilities, and perpetuates hyper-partisanship. The truth is most politicians are regular people. People who had the audacity to believe that democracy isn’t a spectator sport. We see the most character assaults at the presidential level because it has the highest stakes and the most visibility. 

I’ve followed every presidential race since 1992. In 28 years, there have been two candidates who I actually thought had bad motives: Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. It was clear to me that even though the impeachment of President Clinton was motivated by political opportunism not love of country, his conduct and the cover up were unacceptable. I thought he should have resigned. I was grateful for those in his own party who had the courage and patriotism to condemn his behavior. Likewise, I am proud of Republicans who have decried Mr. Trump. I have written often about Mr. Trump. His motives are very clear and show, time and time again, he is not to be trusted and is a threat to the republic.

I have learned over the years that elections are more like public transportation than weddings. We are not committing ourselves to a soulmate. We are looking for someone who can get us as closer to our destination. So what’s this got to do with Joe Biden? Everything! The contrast between him and his opponent is stark–not just subtle differences in policy but wide chasms of moral character. Yes, I basically share Mr. Biden’s political worldview. More importantly, I believe he has the moral fortitude to help steady the ship of state that has been so badly beaten by the storms of egotism, nationalism, fear and self interest–the guiding stars of the current occupant of the White House. Joe Biden’s years of public service, and faith in God, country and his fellow citizens are even more important than his policy platforms. The truth about Joe Biden is that this election will be more about us than him. A test to see if we have the courage to choose hope over fear and patriotism over polarizing disfunction. I’m not just voting for Joe Biden (which I am proud to do). I’m voting for the future of a republic worth fighting for. 

To the Class of 2020: You’re our Heroes

I love listening to commencement addresses (Nerd Alert! I watch them on Youtube!) I find them hopeful, optimistic and inspiring. I live in an area surrounded by college campuses. I love graduation, seeing excited students, friends and families. I can’t help but think of all the hard work, tears, joys and experiences of the graduates. This important tradition of graduation has been radically transformed this year. My heart goes out to the graduates and their families. Many of my students are graduating from college this year, and my oldest son is a high school senior. Though I am pretty sure I will never be asked to give a commencement speech, I think we need one more this year than ever. So, here is my address to the class of 2020: 

Faculty, staff, administration, alumni, family, friends and most important, graduates,

I’m humbled and honored for the opportunity to speak to you today. I know how disappointed you all are to not have a real commencement and how disappointing your senior year has been. 

I would like to give you a word, just one word, that I think may help you to reconcile and grieve your loss. A word to inspire you now, and compel you forward in the future. That word is: Solidarity. Solidarity is a French word that means unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group. I want to focus on the idea of mutual support. 

What you have done over the last several weeks is about much more than you. You have stayed home, social-distanced and forgone so much to keep yourself safe, yes, but also to save others. By sacrificing your own senior year, you have shown us a great example of solidarity! So often when adversity strikes we naturally focus inward and are most concerned with how it will affect us. Surely you have done some of that during this pandemic, as you should have. You have every right to grieve for the loss of opportunities and closure you so looked forward to. And yet, even though you may not have been sick yourself, you made necessary sacrifices to isolate yourself to lessen the impact for others. Your sacrifice has not gone unnoticed, you have shown solidarity with your community and with the world. 

If you are like many of my students, and my own son, you grew up reading and loving J.K. Rowling’s magical world of Harry Potter. Remember, Harry, Ron and Hermione also gave up their senior year, or seventh year as they say in Hogwarts, to find and destroy the horcruxes in order to save the wizarding world. They, like you, showed solidarity. So yes, mourn for what you lost, but also take comfort in the fact that your sacrifice was not in vain. 

One of my favorite lines from a commencement speech comes from J.K. Rowling at Harvard: “There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you.”  

This pandemic has no doubt changed the route you will take into the future but the responsibility to determine where you end up is still yours. We know you can do it! 

Along with Harry Potter, your generation has also grown up with superheroes. Like you most superheroes wear masks. Instead of concealing your identity your mask will be a unique reminder of how you, in solidarity with the world, wore it to help protect others, not from super-villains, but from this superbug! Arguably, the greatest superhero creator of our time is Stan Lee. He tells a great story at a UCLA graduation event  about how he developed Spiderman deliberately as a teenager with teenage troubles and his publisher thought it was a terrible idea. Despite this, he slipped The Amazing Spiderman into the final issue of a magazine and it was a huge hit! This is best one liner of his speech:“If you have an idea that you genuinely think is good, don’t let some idiot talk you out of it.” 

With all you’ve been through we can’t wait to see the amazing ideas and leadership you will provide. We know no one will get in your way!

This idea of solidarity will also compel you forward, if you let it. The whole world will remember 2020, but as graduates, you will share something unique: the fact that you lost your senior year, and graduation. This can unite you to your fellow graduates in a way that other events would not. So, what do you do with that? Continue to think about others. Like Harry, Ron, Herminoe and Peter Parker, you will overcome your obstacles to fight for the greater good. 

We’re proud of you! We’re counting on you! We have every confidence in you going forward. 

Congratulations and good luck! 

Donald Trump’s Unprecedented Leadership in Unparalleled Times

I have little patience for armchair quarterbacking. Being a critic is cheap. A crisis like we are seeing with COVID-19 will test all of our leadership skills. Looking for blame will do little to help the situation. Donald Trump and other government leaders are not responsible for this virus. I think we all have to be patient as we work to manage this crisis. No matter how much planning and preparation we do there will always be missteps, miscalculations and mistakes. 

One of the hallmarks of leadership is how one responds under pressure and how one owns the problem. During World War II, President Harry Truman kept a sign in the Oval Office that read “The Buck Stops Here.” Good leaders don’t blame others for problems, they go to work to find solutions. A companion principle is accountability. Leaders are eager to know how and what went wrong so they can fix it. The coronavirus is an unparalleled crisis in our time. It has required unprecedented leadership. 

Mr. Trump has provided unprecedented leadership, but, sadly, it has been unprecedentedly poor leadership. He not only refuses to take any responsibility for the handling of the crisis, he looks for every opportunity to blame others. Instead of “the Buck Stops Here,”  we see a passing of the buck. Blaming and abusing the media, gaslighting the World Health Organization, as well as projecting his own failures on governors and others. He has refused to acknowledge where mistakes have been made and shows a disdain for facts. His press events are more like campaign rallies, filled with lies and scapegoating. His dismissal of the crisis early on, and the lack of tests, health care equipment etc., could be chalked up to understandable mismanagement, if it wasn’t for the constant lies, blaming and shaming (for a thorough time line of Mr. Trumps reactions to the virus check out this three part series from Steven Harper).

Some of you will read this and think I am making a partisan attack. However, a crisis like this cuts through party lines.  Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican in liberal Massachusetts, has had wide bipartisan support during the crisis. So has Andy Beshear, a Democrat in deep red Kentucky, and Larry Hogan, a Republican in liberal Maryland. All of these governors have approval ratings in the 70s or 80s. Republican Governor Herbert of Utah, and Governor DeWine of Ohio have received national bipartisan praise, as have Democratic Governors Cuomo and Newsom of New York and California. Why? Because they have exhibited the kind of leadership that we need in a moment of crisis. 

No doubt there will be a congressional panel that it will look into the national mismanagement of this crisis. Historians and other academics will expose in great detail why our response was so inferior compared to places like Germany, Iceland, Ireland, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and others. We will not need to wait for those reports to confirm what we see everyday coming from the White House: a void of leadership looking to absolve itself of any responsibility or accountability for this crisis.