It’s endorsement time! Of course, I seriously considered both candidates.
I seriously considered one a con man, a sociopath, a racist, a fascist, a serial liar, a sexual predator, a tax fraud, a mass murderer, and just all around gross. I seriously considered the other one the only choice for president. (I’m not the only one of my profession to do so: 581 game designers signed a letter endorsing Biden and Harris on our site october-surprise.com.)
Just because my choice is obvious—especially after the orangutan display Trump put on at the first “debate”—that’s voting negative. I would much rather vote for a candidate rather than against one. Thankfully, game theory gives an easy way to do this. In sports statistics, there’s a metric called VORP—value over replacement player. To calculate the VORP, you figure out the league’s average ability to do good things and then compare an individual player to that number. It means different things in different sports, but roughly, if someone has a positive VORP, they’re that much better than average; if it’s negative, they’re worse than average.
In the just completed season, the top three NBA players were James Harden at 7.3 VORP, Giannis Antetokounmpo at 6.6, and LeBron James at 6.1. You might’ve heard of Harden (he’s the guy with the beard) and James (he’s LeBron James), but if you’re not a huge NBA fan, maybe you don’t know Antetokounmpo.
The “Greek Freak” is an unbelievable player. He’s this year’s league MVP. Not a legend yet, like James. But he is off the charts, chain, wall, and hook. You need to watch this guy. After doing so, you might think that if you can’t have him, you’d want another Antetokounmpo. Good news: You have two options there! Giannis’s brothers Kostas and Thanasis are also NBA players—and they have VORPs of … 0.0. They are completely average. You can’t just take any player with that last name. You have to get the right one.
We can use a statistic like VORP—call it “value over replacement president,” or maybe “value over Republican president”—and rate Biden on it. Imagine that, let’s just say for hypothetical reasons, the president caught a real bad case of COVID and had to withdraw from the race, and so did Vice President Pence. Having no idea who’d replace them, we’d construct a replacement Republican with no other features except that he’s a white man who holds Republican values. He’s not (yet) a monster. He’s just a guy. Where would Biden rank against that hypothetical opponent?
Pretty high, says me. I brainstormed against this possibility and came up with 100 reasons why I’d vote for Biden in this timeline. All of Trump’s actions to date have still happened. It’s just that now, we would have two non-incumbent candidates, and neither of them are orangutans.
Here’s what I came up with, grouped by concept.
HIS PERSONAL TRAITS
1. Biden’s an empath. Yes, I know you’ve heard that a lot. But it’s amazing to see. Just watch him in a town hall when he meets a boy with a stutter, a trait Biden still occasionally grapples with and mentors kids about. If you make it through this without tearing up, I don’t know what you’re made of.
2. He knows what living costs. He’s a working man who for years was the least wealthy senator. He takes a train to work. It’s corny, but he’s that guy. Also, that guy resonates with people who are also in those circumstances.
3. Many politicians trade on being family men, but his family history is impossible to diminish. The father who lost his job. The car crash that killed his first wife and daughter. The son that served his country and his state, then died too young. The other son who did Nobel Peace Prize-winning work and later fell apart. The social activist daughter. His two brain aneurysm surgeries. Biden carries all of this with him every day. And especially Second Lady Jill Biden, who will be one of the all-timers as First Lady. She doesn’t plan to quit being a professor while in the White House. Wouldn’t you like to send your daughter to her class?
4. His experience. To get out of this mess we’re in, we need someone who knows what the hell he’s doing. Biden doesn’t need a training manual like our last three presidents. Day one, he’ll make the system work for America.
5. His bipartisan spirit. You may want to burn the Republican party to the ground and salt the earth. I do. Joe doesn’t, and they used his son to try to hang him. I have no idea what it takes to be that generous.
6. His friendship with John McCain. Our most revered hero of Vietnam didn’t agree with Biden on most things. But they forged a legendary friendship that surpassed their differences and made compromise possible.
7. His relationship with Barack Obama. I want to linger on what he did before he took the vice presidential nomination. He first declined the role, then realized he could help us more by serving as Obama’s emissary. Obama was a junior senator, and the far more seasoned Biden sublimated his role to be his wingman. To say nothing of the symbolism of a white man doing that for an African American. That took a special character.
8. His adaptability. Biden is not an ideologue like Bernie Sanders. We may need one of those in the next election. Now, we need someone who can hear what other people want and forge healing solutions. I look at his well-chronicled evolution on abortion rights and gay marriage and know he changes as the country does.
9. His willingness to stand up to bullies. Biden is simply tougher than just about any political figure out there. Not machismo tough. Just rock solid. Nobody on the world stage is going to knock him over.
10. The fireside chat style. I could use someone who’s not going to yell into the camera all the time. I doubt Biden even has Twitter on his phone. It’s okay if it’s a little boring. I’ve lived in interesting times long enough.
HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS AS SENATOR
11. The Violence Against Women Act. This is a landmark piece of law. That Biden calls it his proudest accomplishment resonates deeply.
12. He introduced the first climate change bill in the Senate and created the task force on global warming, which led to us joining the Paris Accords.
15. Also Jeff Sessions, whom he blocked from being a federal judge, and probably would have been promoted to the Supreme Court thereafter.
16. He and McCain co-sponsored the PROTECT Our Children Act, expanding the tools to prosecute child pornography and child endangerment.
17 (with caveats). Okay, let’s talk about the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Despite what Biden says, the Crime Bill definitely contributed to mass incarceration. You can debate how much, but you can’t wish that away. But there was also a lot good in the Crime Bill, a compromise piece of legislation that all sides accepted. In addition to Biden’s passage of the Violence Against Women Act mentioned above, it also had a 10-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban, the first background check law, and drug courts that steered offenders away from prison (until the Republicans took over). Biden got what he could. Some of it was great.
18. I don’t want to get too much into his advocacy for criminalization of recreational drugs. I don’t agree with a lot of it. But some of his anti-drug efforts deserve high praise. He made the use of Rohypnol and other date rape drugs illegal. He passed the bill that got androstenedione and other designer steroids banned from sports. There’s good work here.
20. He was a dogged fighter for American competitiveness. He created the Kids 2000 Act, which put computers in schools so our children could have the same leg up that those in Japan and Germany did.
21. He championed the unpopular causes of arms control and nuclear non-proliferation at the height of the Cold War.
22. He was the first senator to urge the end of apartheid in South Africa. Watch this and revel in his beatdown of their “stupid puppet government.”
23. He got Bosnia right when nearly everyone else got it wrong.
24. He expanded NATO to include nearly all of the countries formerly under control of the Soviet Union. In light of what Russia devolved into after glasnost, this looks especially prescient.
25. You may not have heard of this one, but I think it says more about Biden than any other Senate accomplishment of his. Biden’s Procedural Fairness for September 11 Victims Act of 2007 made it easier for victims’ families to sue for compensation from the airlines. Biden got this passed two weeks after 9/11. That’s not waiting to find out what’s popular. That’s action.
HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS AS VICE PRESIDENT
26. Inheriting the Great Recession, Obama sent Biden to Congress to pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This charted us away from the brink of a new depression.
27. We still make cars in Detroit thanks to Joe.
28. The 2010 Tax Relief Act, the Budget Control Act of 2011, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, and so on. Even with a Tea Party revolution in Congress, Biden still got these major bills passed and saved the economy.
29. These efforts worked to create a record ten years of job growth (including Trump’s first three, obviously).
30. To stop such a disaster from happening again, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
31. The Lilly Ledbetter Act Fair Pay Act, the first bill Obama signed into law, that required equal pay for equal work, a standard we still have not met.
32. This one’s personal. Prior to the Affordable Care Act, my company could not get private health insurance for me or any of my employees. The day the exchanges went up, I bought insurance for my entire company in 15 minutes.
33. Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. (This list should be longer.)
34. Obergefell v. Hodges. Biden’s championing of gay marriage preceded Obama’s acceptance of the concept. Had the profoundly religious Biden not pushed Obama to abandon the Defense of Marriage Act, maybe DOMA would still be the law of the land.
35. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, including sexual orientation, gender, and disability as protected categories in addition to race, color, religion, and national origin.
36. The massive U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and Iraq. (Caveat: More drones.)
37. This photo.
38. Also, how are Qaddafi and Mubarak doing these days?
39. The comprehensive strategy that delayed Iran getting a nuclear bomb.
40. The New START Treaty, The VP’s signature foreign policy highlight, allowing Russia and the US to monitor each other’s nuclear drawdown.
41. Remember that passion about drug policy? Biden used it to great advantage when he and Obama negotiated the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
42. Opening Doors, which cut the number of homeless veterans in half.
43. Spent more on welfare than defense, the first ever administration to do that. Also, welfare spending down as jobs expanded.
44. All crimes down. (And because it bears saying, a complete lack of crimes by Obama administration personnel.)
46. The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act, the largest conservation act in my lifetime.
48. Constraining Ebola and H1N1 from becoming, well, this. I was at the heart of the H1N1 outbreak in Seattle. It literally started at my booth at the PAX convention. I know what it could have done. But it didn’t.
49. The “pandemic playbook,” which … sigh.
50. The Cancer Moonshot, Biden’s final epic quest in the administration. No accomplishment of Biden’s seems as personal as this one.
51. Simply on the face of it: I described Biden’s primary campaign as terrible on two occasions. He seemed outclassed and outorganized by his opponents. He won. That was not an easy lift, but he did it.
52. And I was critical of his general election campaign as too conservative. He’s winning by a lot. I can admit I was wrong (if he pulls this off).
53. He was not good in early debates, by my debate-by-debate ranking. Warren, Booker, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar all placed well ahead of him in the shouting match section of the race. But Biden got better. The debate before South Carolina, when he had to win, he won. In one-on-ones against Sanders and Trump, he’s looked like a different species of human.
54. The strategic power play right before Super Tuesday, consolidating with Buttigieg and Klobuchar to leave himself as the only alternative to a fractured progressive base. That Sanders and Warren didn’t figure out a response is why they’re not battling Trump right now.
55. The endorsement from Jim Clyburn which presaged a unity around Biden from the most important Democratic constituency. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that I trust Black people on candidates.
56. The endorsement from Anita Hill. None of Biden’s thousands of endorsements matters more than this one. Maybe even more than the Iraq War vote or the Crime Bill, the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings could have been his albatross. Hill’s support of Biden speaks volumes.
57. In March, he gave the most important speech of his campaign: this one on the coronavirus. It so contrasted with what was happening at the time that, if this were a comic book, it would spawn an alternate universe.
58. This badass look.
59. The clear embrace of science, especially over mask wearing, campaign rallies, and door-knocking. There’s a real chance this loses him the race. It doesn’t matter. Not killing people is the right thing to do.
60. The fundraising. Hoo boy, that’s a bonkers amount.
61. The hokey train tour. C’mon, admit it. You eat this up.
62. A fundamentally honest, decent campaign. CNN’s Daniel Dale has spent most of his time on the other side of the aisle.
63. His fantastic choice of a vice presidential nominee. With her “that little girl was me” attack, Kamala Harris could have knocked herself out of the running with a less confident candidate. Not with Joe.
64. The “Give people light” speech from the virtual convention. All you need to know about this is that Jennifer Hudson and the Black Eyed Peas liked it so much, they made it into a powerful music video.
65. The visit to the church in Kenosha after the Jacob Blake shooting. This is my favorite moment of Biden’s campaign, the one where I knew he was going to be president. For twenty minutes, he just sat there listening attentively to a community in pain, taking notes occasionally. He wasn’t there to speak. He was there to learn.
66. The grand coalition. Biden is mobilizing is an election force: women, college grads, minorities, progressives, moderates, ex-Republicans. This is a hard group to hold together. He’s doing that.
67. The election themes of “A Battle for the Soul of a Nation” and “Character is on the ballot.” You can’t be opposed to those.
68. The Gettysburg speech. “I’ll be a president for all America.”
69. When he stayed behind and talked to people in the balconies after the ABC Town Hall.
70. A Democrat who put Georgia, Texas, and Iowa in play is okay by me.
The next 20 are from JoeBiden.com.
71. The most aggressive climate change policy from a major general election candidate ever, with a commitment to environmental justice based on the framework of the Green New Deal. Is $1.7 trillion enough? I don’t know. My eyes glaze over when there’s more than one letter before -illion. It’s a whole lot. (Also, he’s not dumb enough to tell Pennsylvania and Texas he’d ban fracking, which I expect he probably will.)
72. Finally, a comprehensive immigration reform program, based on a pathway to citizenship.
73. A deep investment in economic equity, with a strong focus on investment into minority communities.
74. A commitment to ending the long-term inequities faced by women in health, employment, and housing. This is one of the most developed areas of Biden’s policies, including a congressional codification of abortion rights, support for Planned Parenthood, pre-K child care, and dozens of other efforts.
76. An attempt to battle systemic racism, especially against African Americans in the criminal justice sphere. The end of private prisons. Decriminalization of drugs. Community-oriented policing. A database of police offenders. Lots of critical stuff here in atonement for the Crime Bill.
77. A deep investment in rural America—y’know, the people who don’t vote for him—especially as a central plank of his clean energy policy.
78. Treating Puerto Rico like a state (and if they want, making them one).
79. The Equality Act, ensuring LGBTQIA+ Americans have all the rights possessed by any other American.
81. Making four-year colleges tuition-free to those students from families whose incomes are below $125,000, and reducing or eliminating student debt for those who make less than $25,000 a year.
83. Saving the small businesses of America, ravaged by incompetent policy and malicious piracy of COVID relief by the largest businesses.
85. The reestablishment of America’s moral leadership around the world. Under Biden, we will support our allies and stand up to our adversaries, which is of course how you do it.
86. Jobs. A lot of them.
89. Expansion of the Affordable Care Act with a public option, the center of an aggressive health care plan.
90. Ending COVID-19 by listening to public health professionals, using the Defense Production Act, only releasing tested vaccines, and stopping idiot Republicans from killing us all.
91. While I don’t know what Biden really thinks on this issue—he’s been quite cagey on it—I think he’s more inclined to fix the court system than you might think. Would it shock me if Merrick Garland gets nominated for a 10th Supreme Court seat on day one? Not really. I think Biden’s keenly aware how many judgeships Mitch McConnell stole from him, and is itching for payback.
92. For that, how about Supreme Court Justice Obama. (Either one.)
94. I’m doubtful Biden would make it a goal to end the electoral college, but he’s spent a year dealing with how stacked the deck is against Democrats. Maybe he makes the National Voting Compact a priority. Maybe he pushes for national election standards. Maybe he just paves the way for a new president who does all these things.
95. If he decides to resign early or to not run for a second term, President Harris sounds really, really good. She would be just the first woman president, first African American woman president, and first Indian American president.
98. A completely competent and scandal-free set of cabinet members.
99. Biden is going to reach across the aisle and see if he can work with Republicans. Good for him! That is just admirable given how this has gone. Me, I want vengeance. Lots of it. I want Trump and his cronies arrested, tried, and convicted for genocide, sexual assault, tax fraud, and whatever else can be dreamed up by our prosecutors. Now that Trump has restored the federal death penalty, I can’t think of a better person to try it out on. But yeah, this is me talking. What the hell do I know. Maybe vengeance is not healthy for the country. Biden will make those decisions based on what makes America strong. I like that.
FINALLY, REASON #100 TO ELECT JOE BIDEN
This is the 65th installment of a series on politics and game theory. It has covered impeachment of Trump, Russian collusion, white supremacy, abortion, guns, nuclear war, debt, Colin Kaepernick, sexual harassment, the Mueller probe, taxes, Trump’s first year, the Clinton Foundation, immigration, parades, the Democrats, hope, family separation, trade wars, the midterms, the Times op-ed, Justice Kavanaugh, Speaker Pelosi, lame ducks, the GOP legacy, the stock market, the Democratic field, shutdowns, third parties, the Virginia scandals, in-party impeachment, the Trump mafia, college admissions, William Barr, Brexit, Iran, the Mueller Report, Joe Biden, Oregon’s standoff, the environment, Jeffrey Epstein, Trump’s lies, Pelosi’s strategy, the impeachment inquiry, political outsiders, Rudy Giuliani, the Berlin wall, protest art, Boris Johnson, religion, engagement, Bernie Sanders, progressive unity, the Democratic nominee, the pandemic, unemployment, rioting, the Klan, the Confederacy, the GOP 2020 strategy, Biden’s strategy, the wildfire crisis, civil war, Kamala Harris, Trump’s COVID diagnosis, and Biden’s case. Most of these appear in my new edition of Game Theory in the Age of Chaos, which you can get on our PledgeManager now.