Gene Lyons

One big problem with the early Democratic primaries, I told somebody the other day, isn’t so much that Iowa and New Hampshire are virtually all white. It’s that New Hampshire’s right next door to Massachusetts — land of brainy Democratic losers.

Every failed Democratic presidential candidate since 1988 got a head start in New Hampshire: Michael Dukakis, John Kerry, Al Gore and Hillary Clinton (who won in 2008 but lost to Bernie Sanders in 2016). All except Bernie either grew up or went to college around Boston: Ivy League intellectuals, every one.

When I tell people I fear that Elizabeth Warren could turn out to be Michael Dukakis in a pantsuit, that’s what I’m talking about. So it’s a surprise to learn from Michael Tomasky’s excellent Daily Beast column that the progressive heroine actually trails Joe Biden in Massachusetts by 26 percent to 24 percent.

According to the Suffolk University survey, Sanders is running a distant third, at 8 percent. That’d be 40 points down from his 2016 second-place finish. Things are closer up in New Hampshire, but Bernie’s losing ground to Elizabeth Warren almost everywhere else. The angry old man act has finally worn thin. Warren has basically taken Sanders’ issues and put a smiley face on them.

However, for a Massachusetts senator to be polling almost even with Joe Biden in her home state appears to show two things: Democrats’ determination to defeat Donald Trump above all else, and serious doubts among her own constituents about Warren’s ability to do so. Are Americans really prepared to make any Harvard professor, particularly one of the female persuasion, their president? Can she pass the commander-in-chief test?

I have to say I can’t picture it. Of course I’m an old white man myself, although I’d vote for Sen. Amy Klobuchar in a heartbeat. Also Warren, if it comes to that.


Anyway, Biden’s certainly no shoo-in, although polls show him beating Trump by an average of 15 points — a landslide. By now, you’d think a three-legged dog could defeat Trump, but it ain’t necessarily so. Every cynic I know thinks Trump cultists will swarm the polls in support of Dear Leader’s inevitable hate and fear campaign.

Meanwhile, progressive Democrats are being taught to despise Biden, while the political press seems eager to treat every verbal slip or digressive anecdote as evidence of impending senility.

But yeah, Biden’s too old for this ordeal. As I put it some months back: “Anybody in their mid-70s who tries to tell you they don’t feel the transmission slipping as time’s winged chariot draws nearer is definitely bluffing.” (That elaborately mixed metaphor earned me an “attaboy” from my high school girlfriend, who can still make my heart go pitty-pat after 55 years.)

Of course Trump’s also too old, an aging sociopath visibly slipping into dementia. Arguing with the weather forecast? Denouncing the media for accurately reporting what he said about Iran on national TV?

It’s definitely time to take Grampa’s keys away before he lets one of his murdering dictator friends push the U.S. into war.

Boasting and backing down are Trump’s strongest talents.


Anyway, here’s the deal: Uncle Joe may or may not be showing his age, but he’s always talked too much about too many things, some better left unsaid.

Biden was at it again recently, retelling an anecdote about his confrontation with a razor-wielding gang member called “Corn Pop” during his days as the only white lifeguard at a black Wilmington, Delaware, swimming pool. A football and baseball star back then, Biden armed himself with a chain, and Corn Pop retreated.

Biden told the oft-repeated tale during a ceremony renaming the pool in his honor. Over on Fox News, hilarity ensued. No way could such a self-dramatizing tall tale be true. On the left, Michael Harriot, a writer for The Root, lampooned Biden’s obvious racism on Twitter.

“Now if you’re black,” he wrote, “this (bleep) sounds like some white kid tried to make a gang fairy tale for a sixth-grade play because you and I know there ain’t no squad led by a n—— named Corn Pop going around terrorizing Delaware pools.” Harriot’s followers had a big time mocking the old bigot.

(You might also doubt that I once knew an Arkansas girl called “Chainsaw,” although I did.)

But I digress. Problem is, insofar as the story is checkable, it’s evidently true. CNN’s Daniel Dale found William L. “Corn Pop” Morris’ obituary in the Wilmington newspaper. He had little difficulty finding members of the city’s African American community who’ve been telling and retelling the story for years, as evidence of Biden’s grit. Corn Pop’s son contacted Dale to affirm that his father never held a grudge. 

See, that’s the thing about Joe Biden. People who know him generally like him — not an inconsiderable thing for a politician.

And they mostly trust him to keep on being himself after all these years.

Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). 

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