Who offers Rx for troubled times?

Published 1:01 pm Saturday, March 7, 2020

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By Peter Funt

[Editor’s note: This column has been updated to reflect the news that Sen. Amy Klobuchar has dropped out of the 2020 race.]

A worsening coronavirus outbreak could injure President Trump’s re-election prospects, although no reasonable American would hope for a medical crisis to tip an election. But what about Democrats? How might a pandemic affect their nomination contest?

A spiraling health emergency would create a dramatic shift, thrusting two candidates to the forefront: former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Klobuchar, who dropped out Monday, would make an ideal running mate for Biden under the circumstances.

Imagine a scenario in which Americans stay home, supplies run short, businesses suffer, schools close. It’s an awful prospect, one that would profoundly alter the public’s priorities. Voters would gravitate to the man who comforts like a wise old uncle, and the woman who favors compromise and comes across as a loving mom.

When asked about coronavirus at a CNN town hall, Biden was at his best, explaining in detail how he and the Obama Administration dealt with Ebola. Regarding the current crisis, he said, “We need to invest immediately. We should have done it from the beginning, the moment the virus appeared. But we’re getting late, but we’ve got good scientists. And I just hope the president gets on the same page as the scientists.”

A health emergency underscores the need for a president who speaks the truth. Americans won’t expect their president to know everything about the science; they’ll prefer to hear that from scientists. But they will want someone who is consistently honest and excels in comforting those who are suffering.

At just about every campaign stop Joe Biden is approached by folks who face a crisis in their lives. He unfailingly provides sympathetic understanding, speaking openly about his own personal tragedies.

My heart breaks each time I hear Biden recount the deaths of his wife and daughter in a 1972 car crash, followed by the blow in 2015 when he lost his son Beau to cancer. My spirits soar when he explains how he rallied after promising his dying son he would not withdraw from public service.

“He knew I would take care of the family,” Biden says with eyes moist, “but he worried what I would do is I would pull back and go into a shell and not do all the things I’ve done before. It took me a long time to get to the point to realize that that purpose is the thing that would save me. And it has.”

This year’s Democratic candidates have many compelling qualities, but none can match Joe Biden’s empathy for those who are in pain. If a more serious health crisis were to develop, he would be the man to whom many voters would turn.

Amy Klobuchar is most effective when she stresses her Midwestern grit. Her record of working with Republicans in Congress is unparalleled among current candidates, and that quality will be important in the event of a prolonged health emergency.

Klobuchar speaks from the heart about working with her friend John McCain, traveling with him to Afghanistan and other war zones. As he neared death at his home in Arizona, Klobuchar visited McCain. “He pointed to a sentence in his book,” she recalls, “and told me ‘that’s all that matters.’ The sentence was this: ‘Nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause larger than yourself.’”

In a time of crisis voters will pay less attention to the long-term plans of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. They won’t care about the billions spent on TV advertising by Michael Bloomberg, and I doubt many voters were impressed by his 3-minute TV buy in which he attempted to position himself as the candidate best suited to battle the virus.

As for Biden, for months I have been worried about his stamina and occasional lapses on the campaign trail. I believe his age is a factor and before news of the epidemic I had gone so far as to suggest that he consider withdrawing to clear the way for center-left Democrats to coalesce. Times and circumstances change.

Would Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar consider joining forces to provide trusted leadership for a troubled nation? It might be the best prescription to battle a runaway virus.

PETER FUNT is a writer and speaker. His book, “Cautiously Optimistic,” is available at Amazon.com and CandidCamera.com. A list of his upcoming live appearances is available at www.CandidCamera.com.