Stand by Your Man, Jill, But You Can’t Make Us Stand With You

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Jill Biden finally said what many of us have been thinking about her husband, 2020 presidential “frontrunner” Joe Biden: other candidates are simply “better … than Joe is.”

At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Jill gave the opposite of a ringing endorsement for Joe, whose candidacy has been plagued by gaffes big and small, but who continues to remain ahead in the polls. She said, bleakly, about her own spouse, “Your candidate might be better on, I don’t know, health care, than Joe is, but you’ve got to look at who’s going to win this election … And maybe you have to swallow a little bit and say, ‘Okay, I personally like so and so better,’ but your bottom line has to be that we have to beat Trump.”

She also invoked that spectral qualifier that has haunted us since 2016: “electability.” “But I want you to think about your candidate,” Biden said, “his or her electability, and who’s going to win this race.” The sentiment is echoed in a campaign add that is currently airing in Iowa: “We have to beat Donald Trump, and all the polls agree Joe Biden is the strongest Democrat to do the job,” says a voice-over narrator. “No one is more qualified.”

But that’s not true. A recent Survey USAPoll that measured candidates in head-to-head matches found Bernie Sanders beating Trump by a margin of 8 percent. And Elizabeth Warren is gaining on both Sanders and Biden, coming second in a recent Fox News poll.

What Jill Biden dismisses as, “I don’t know, health care,” gets at the fundamental discrepancy between what millions of progressives want to see in their leadership, and what a career politician like Joe Biden has been offering. Biden is quick to remind us he was VP to America’s first black president, that he marched with civil rights leaders (he didn’t), and to generally pay lip service to the values of diversity, inclusion, and equality. But on policy he continually fails to deliver: regarding “I don’t know, health care,” he has compared Medicare for All to Republicans attempts to gut the ACA; he won’t consider ending the filibuster; he has done little to distance himself from his past as a legislative ally of banks and credit card companies; and to disavow his work with segregationists. His idea of change, like his polling numbers, seems to be to mostly stay the same.

So I put it to Jill Biden: “Electable” to whom? Who is doing the “swallowing” of their convictions and who is getting to freely voice theirs? There’s an undeniable queasiness in hearing Jill Biden tell us to essentially stand by her man — and to use the cudgel of another man, Donald Trump, to make us afraid. She’s laying out plainly, uncritically, the maddeningly unfair gender dynamics of presidential politics, in which women candidates have to fight to even make it inside the realm of “electable” possibility. The same goes for candidates of color, who have to struggle to convince mainstream pundits and gatekeepers that they can win over a majority. White company men like Biden, who have long benefited from the patriarchy, without really doing anything to deserve our support, get a pass. As Tammy Wynette once sang, “You’ll have bad times, and he’ll have good times, doin’ things that you don’t understand.”

Stand by Your Man, Jill, But We Don’t Have to Stand With You