Editor’s note: UNC professor Jonathan Weiler, an INDY Voices columnist, headed to the soon-to-be-frozen tundra of Iowa this weekend to be the INDY’s official Iowa Caucuses Correspondent™. His fourth dispatch comes from a Des Moines gymnasium, where a former vice president pitched himself as a Working Joe.  

On Sunday afternoon, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to a packed gymnasium at Hiatt Middle School in Des Moines. The pregame show didn’t last quite as long as Bernie’s on Saturday night, but it stretched well over an hour.

Among Biden’s surrogates are Congresswomen Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne, each elected from Iowa in the Democratic wave of 2018. Finkenauer and Axne aren’t just appropriate surrogates because they’re Iowans. They also represent Biden’s theory of the case—they’re moderate Democrats who won swing districts in a purple (tilting red) state. The argument for Joe Biden is clear, he and his supporters emphasized. He’s a good man, a man of character. He’s experienced. He will be ready for the job on day one, because there’s no time for on-the-job training. And he can appeal across the political divide.

Biden is also the champion of the forgotten middle class and of unions, whose rights and bargaining power he promises to restore. In fact, the first person to speak on Biden’s behalf yesterday was Harold Schaitberger, the longtime head of the International Association of Firefighters, to emphasize Biden’s bona fides with “working Joes.”

Biden’s allies portrayed him as a man of deep “empathy.” Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack insisted that “no one has a deeper connection to the country than Joe Biden,” someone who has  “the greatest empathy and connection” to people. Biden’s wife, Jill, his sister Valerie, and Biden himself emphasized the need for our country to heal, to overcome the division and hatred that Donald Trump has sown these past few years. Biden, they all argued, is unsurpassed in his capacity to achieve that. And Biden himself said he’s running to “save the soul of the nation” (piece of cake!).

While Biden asserted that he “refused to believe the other side is the enemy,” he vigorously attacked Trump. Biden spoke with disgust, indignation, and seeming disbelief about the white supremacist march and subsequent violence in Charlottesville in 2017, which Biden compared to Germany in the 1930s. Biden said he refused to believe we’re a country that “coddles white supremacists” and that “flat-out lies,” and, in practically pleading tones, insisted, “we’re so much better than that.”

While Bernie is often portrayed as the old guy who yells a lot (which, fair enough), Biden himself was all emotion yesterday. He raised his voice angrily throughout, horrified and disgusted by what he believes Trump is doing to the country Joe loves. Biden provided almost no policy details, apart from vague name-checking of basic liberal preferences, from gun safety to a woman’s right to choose to greater access to health care.

But performance-wise, Biden was pretty sharp, a point worth mentioning because, in debates and other public settings in recent months, Biden has at times been shaky and not especially coherent. That’s not a ringing endorsement of how he did yesterday, but it seemed clear that, as far as his supporters were concerned, he was more than good enough.

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