I don’t know much about Joe Biden, except that he’s been Barack Obama’s Vice-President for his entire presidency. But the impression I have of him is that he’s a likeable sort of guy. About six months back he was asked what he’d do if Donald Trump got elected as president, and he replied, “I’d shake his hand.” That is, he would readily accept the outcome, and would welcome Trump as readily as George W Bush welcomed him and Barack Obama into the White House back in 2008.
That’s quite a contrast with the collective nervous breakdown that the US left underwent after Trump actually did get elected.
Yet it seems that it was only very late in the day that he realised that Trump might win.
The vice president, who made 83 campaign appearances for Clinton, said his misgivings were confirmed at a rally on the eve of Election Day with Clinton’s running mate Sen. Timothy Kaine (D-VA), when he said to his aides that he detected no excitement for the former secretary of state.
“You didn’t see any Hillary signs,” Biden recalled.
I’d noticed that too, from the other side of the Atlantic ocean. Because I’d seen several reports that there were forests of Trump signs all over the USA – except in the big cities -, and hardly any Hillary signs.
But Joe Biden seems to have only noticed this in the closing days of the campaign, and on the eve of the election in a speech he said:
“God willing we’re going to win this, but there’s a lot of people who are going to vote for Donald Trump,” Biden told the crowd. “We’ve got to figure out why. What is eating at them? Some of it will be unacceptable. But some of it will be about hard truths about our country and about our economy. A lot of people do feel left out.”
That’s a good question to have asked: “What’s eating them?” It’s just that it seemed, on election eve, a bit late in the day to be asking that question. Why hadn’t he asked it 18 months earlier?
Because, even though I’m not an American and have never ever been to America and I live on the other side of the Atlantic ocean, I could have answered that question for Joe Biden. Or at least I could have explained to him what was eating a very large number of Americans, and exactly why they were feeling “left out”.
So I’ve been imagining being there when Biden made that speech, and listening to him, and approaching him afterwards and saying,
“Mr Vice-President, I know one bunch of Americans that’s feeling very much ‘left out’. Would you like to know who they are?”
“Sure,” Joe Biden would say, turning to face me. “Fire away.”
And I’d say,”Smokers. Smokers are feeling left out. And they have every reason to feel left out, because all over America they have been or are being exiled to the outdoors. And that’s what’s eating at them. And that’s why tomorrow they’re not going to vote for a antismoking zealot like Hillary Clinton. They’re going to vote against her.”
But by then Joe Biden’s eyes would have glazed over. “Smokers?” he’d say. “Smokers? Who gives a damn about smokers? Teachers, truck divers, miners, folks like that. Those are the people we listen to. But smokers? No.”
“Well, that’s the problem, Mr Vice President,” I’d say. “Nobody’s listening to them. They’re being thrown out of bars and restaurants everywhere. And they’re being hit with draconian taxes. They’re even being thrown out of their homes. And they’re angry. And there are a hell of a lot of them.”
And Joe Biden would shake his head and say, “Look, that’s a matter of public health, not politics. Here in America we’re trying our best to end the scourge of smoking. Half of all smokers die of smoking-related diseases. And we have to help them to quit. And most smokers – 70% – want to quit smoking. It’s the same in England, where I think you probably come from.”
And I’d say, “Most smokers no more want to quit smoking than most golfers want to quit playing golf. And that’s just as true in America as it is in England.”
But by then Joe Biden would have turned and started walking away, and the burly Secret Service agents who’d been eyeing me with the deepest suspicion would have stepped forward to usher me away.
That’s probably something like how it would have gone. For people like Joe Biden, smokers simply don’t exist as a political entity. They’re just a public health problem, like malaria or ebola.
But I wasn’t there, so I couldn’t have told him. And even if I had been there, I’d probably have found that you couldn’t just walk up to the Vice-President of the United States and say something to him. Not without first being screened, frisked, and questioned by an army of aides and bodyguards. These people are kept in a cocoon. Which is, of course, an explanation in itself for why they are all so out of touch with ordinary people.