Is Joe Biden Too Much Like Don Draper Living in a Peggy Olson World?

Chris Cillizza says, “the danger for [Joe] Biden in this [presidential] race is clear: He runs the risk of coming off like Don Draper in a Peggy Olson world. And, unfortunately for him, there’s just not much he can do about it.” I think that’s undoubtedly true. If you’re familiar with the show Mad Men, you know what that means, and if you are not I think you can imagine. We’ve reached a moment in this country where women aren’t accepting the old rules and where men are being routinely punished for things that previous generations took for granted.

Yet, I look at the White House and I see Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I can’t concede that we’re living in a Peggy Olson world. Maybe that’s where we’re headed. Maybe we are right on the cusp of that. Maybe the outcome of the 2020 election will decide which kind of country we’re living in.

The way it looks from here, more than a year out from Election Day, there isn’t much doubt which side of that battle will be waged by the Democrats. And this is why the Democratic primaries and caucuses don’t appear to be hospitable territory for older white men who spent most of their political careers in an environment that operated by the old rules.

From this distant vantage point, it’s also not clear that the Democrats will win a battle fought along these lines. An all-out cultural battle about race and gender and human sexuality could really go either way, especially against an incumbent president fighting on the opposing side.

The Democrats seem to want to focus more on kitchen table issues, especially health care. It’s the Republicans who want to make the election about whether black athletes stand for the national anthem or non-white immigrants are committing heinous crimes. They’re running unapologetically to take away reproductive choice and on divisive issues like transgender bathrooms. They seem to think they can win a cultural battle. They don’t want to fight about health care, as can been seen by the extremely negative reaction from congressional Republicans to the administration’s choice to oppose the Affordable Care Act in court.

In truth, the campaign will be about all of these things and many other topics too, but it’s not clear to me that the Democrats want the campaign to be primarily about getting a verdict on whether this is a Don Draper or a Peggy Olson world. They might want it to be about a return to sense of normalcy and competency, because they’d almost surely win that battle.

Like every other Democratic aspirant to the White House, Biden has his pros and cons. He has some pretty obvious weaknesses, especially as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. He’s also a great contrast to Trump in almost every respect. It could be that there is one respect in which they are not different enough, but that will be up to Democratic voters to decide.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at ProgressPond.com