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Rep. James E. Clyburn Joe Biden isn't a perfect candidate, but he's the 2020 Democrat who can beat Trump

At this critical juncture, my friend Joe is finally finding his voice. People not only hear him, but feel him as well.
Image: Joe Biden
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Joe Biden at a primary night election rally in Columbia, S.C., on Feb. 29, 2020.Matt Rourke / AP

My recent endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden prior to the South Carolina Democratic presidential primary has been called a game changer. I will leave such assessments to others, but I do know what it’s like to suffer disappointments and be prematurely subjected to nudges to get out of the political game.

Following Joe’s performance Tuesday — in which he won four more state primaries and extended his delegate lead over rival Sen. Bernie Sanders — I am even more confident making this case. Although he was my preferred choice from the beginning, Joe is not a perfect candidate, nor has he led a perfect campaign. And yet, I know that he is the best Democrat for the job. His ability to persevere and indeed grow after personal and professional tragedy is just one of the reasons why.

As a younger man, I ran for the South Carolina House of Representatives and was declared the loser the morning after having been declared the winner. I subsequently ran twice for South Carolina secretary of state, losing both times. After those three losses, a friend of mine noted something to the effect of “three strikes and you’re out." But I told my friend that one should not live their life by baseball rules.

The same holds true for my good friend Joe. He had run for president three times and never won a single primary. Just a few days ago, his 2020 effort also seemed to be struggling after disappointing finishes in Iowa (fourth place), New Hampshire (fifth place) and Nevada (second place). People were beginning efforts to nudge him out. But Joe knows, like I know, we ought not to apply baseball rules to critical life decisions.

Failures to win past presidential primaries are not the only challenges that Joe has had to overcome. Losing a wife and a baby in a horrific 1972 automobile accident and then sitting for weeks at the bedside of the two sons who survived the ordeal is a tough way to celebrate being elected to the United States Senate at the tender age of 29. Later, Joe would lose one of those sons to brain cancer in the prime of his life.

In his developmental years, Joe experienced what it's like for the head of your household to lose a job and be forced to move the family in search of a new livelihood. Joe struggled as a child to overcome stuttering and the bullying that accompanied it. His life experiences have made him the kind of man who would make a compassionate president.

As I said before, Joe can and must do better. But I’ve always felt that I knew what was preventing his best qualities from getting through to the voters. For example, I thought he needed to be more open about his struggles with stuttering, which I felt contributed to some of his oft-discussed gaffes.

Biden has developed a serious case of “alligator arms” — they seem almost pinned to his sides now — because of the accusation that his “touchy-feely” style of campaigning has made women uncomfortable. He has been knocked off-stride by the mischaracterization of his 1960s busing position; and his lackluster performances in the early debates caused fundraising problems that forced the campaign to take shortcuts. In short, Joe was not being Joe.

South Carolina delivered a reset because South Carolinians know the real Joe. We often see him at our places of worship, our recreational facilities and our eating establishments. His visits are sometimes unannounced and without pretense or expectations. As I said at my endorsement announcement, we know Joe, but most importantly, Joe knows us.

Our country is at an inflection point. Back in the 1960s, when my late wife and I were being arrested and jailed for challenging unjust laws, we often wondered whether or not we were doing the right thing. But we were never fearful. We always believed that justice would prevail. Today, however, I am fearful for our nation’s future.

On the eve of the South Carolina debate, I reminded Joe that his life experiences have equipped him to speak to people on a personal level. Judging from his victory speech after the South Carolina primary, his town hall performance that week and his remarks during the trifecta of endorsements several nights later in Texas, he is finding his voice. People not only hear him, but feel him as well.

When I told my father that I had decided against following him into the ministry, he did not express disappointment. “Well, son," he responded, “I believe the world would much rather see a sermon than hear one.” Biden is a public servant who is empathetic and passionate. He doesn’t just talk the talk; he walks the walk.

At this critical junction, in our “pursuit of a more perfect Union” we must elect a president who will restore dignity and decency to the presidency and lead our country with honesty and integrity. In my not-so-humble opinion, Joe Biden is the Democrat best prepared and positioned to achieve those ends.