Ryan: Biden at the empty fairgrounds

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Joe Biden leaned into the white barn. Up and to the left, a green sign that said "SWINE."

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Just in case you had doubts, here's the "SWINE" sign.Photo by Sean Ryan

His warm-up music was playing, nice and loud. A country song about a Bruce Springsteen song. Which was followed by an actual Springsteen song. A newer one, with an electronic drumbeat.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

Then Jackie Wilson's "Higher And Higher" erupted, and Biden sprinted to a makeshift podium in the empty field.

Higher and higher

Biden was somehow spry and stiff at the same time. And maybe he had had some work done. Plastic surgery.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

His secret service were disguised as urban ranchers types as they monitored the scene. Not too far away, the highest double track railroad bridge in the world, Kate Shelley Bridge.

The media gawked at Biden through cameras, over laptops. From some nearby pasture, a donkey brayed, cows mooed.

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The makeshift media area at the back of the field.Photo by Sean Ryan

Your love, lifting me higher… Than I've ever been

The music yanked to a close as Biden apologized for wearing sunglasses. Everyone was sweating. Glassy beads streaked down Biden's face. Yet there he was, in an elegant pale-blue button-up.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

To his left, an elaborate "I AM 4 BIDEN" sign. To his right, a "Biden Works for America" billboard. He gripped the podium and faced the crowd in folding chairs and humid morning light.

Behind Biden, American-flag tassels, still crinkled from the bag. In front of him, 70-odd people surrounded by a chain-link fence, and on the other side, an empty road.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

News broke that Jeffrey Epstein had hanged himself earlier that morning.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

Since announcing his Presidential bid, Biden had been turned into a meme, mocked for his old-school approach to connecting with people, which the new generation had branded unacceptable. As I argued in my first Biden story, I found his affection to be charming, rooted in kindness, and I never once saw him get handsy with someone who didn't feel absolutely honored that he'd narrowed his focus to them alone.

Once again, the outrage was the actual problem. And the hypocrisy was disgusting. Politicians are notorious for affairs and downright sexual depravity, so PDA was hardly a crime. John F. Kennedy once said, "If I don't have a lay for three days I get a headache." JFK alone puts Biden to shame. Both John Edwardsand Arnold Schwarzenegger had their own second families as a result of affairs.

Beyond that, it had been a rocky start in Iowa for Biden. Lots of bad optics. Lots of awkward phrasing. Like the "poor kids are just as talented as white kids" remark he made last night at the plumbers' union in Des Moines.

Or a few hours before that, at the Iowa State Fair, when he got into a weird argumentwith Breitbart News editor Joel Pollak, who criticized one of Biden's story about the disastrous events in Charlottesville nearly two years before to the day, and accused Biden of mischaracterizing Trump's reaction to the Unite the Right rally.

Biden responded with indignation, using portions of his "contorted faces" stump speech word-for-word.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

The issue of Trump and Charlottesville remains far more complicated, steeped in semantics and implication. Many on the left and in the press took umbrage with President Trump's speech. His use of equivalency. As Jake Shafer at Politico noted, the speech "sound[ed] like he [was] channeling Barack Obama, a realization that must have clawed at him." According to Bob Woodward's book Fear, Trump described the speech as "the biggest f***ing mistake I've made."

Didn't matter. The point was, Trump had to go. Most of the candidates took this approach, some more fecklessly than others.

Kamala Harris referred to Trump's twitter feed as ammunition for mass shooters. Biden also linked Trump directly to the tragedies. Don't get me wrong, Trump, as President, still regularly calls entire nations "loser" on Twitter. But, as recently as four days earlier, he said that, "in one voice, our nation must condemn bigotry, hatred and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated."

Biden agreed.

*

Different news outlets assign reporters and photographers to the presidential front-runners.

Kamala Harris was so confident in her campaign that she went ahead and bought the personalized KAMALA tour bus. There were over 20 other candidates left, some of whom could still go to a grocery store without being noticed, and Harris already had the KAMALA wagon. As well as a charter bus specifically for press covering her campaign.

Everywhere she went, a herd of media and staff followed along, surrounding her on all sides.

At that stage of the race, Biden and Harris and Sanders received the most media attention. Biden, by default. Harris, by maneuver. Sanders, by nonchalance. Warren floated around somewhere in the background with her wispy voice and her perennial look of innocence.

*

Journalists prowled, recording everything. The media were set up behind the audience. A bank of cameras from CNN, Fox News, ABC, Associated Press, you name it. Reporters, scrawling in slender notebooks, from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC. Most of them were young. Diverse group.

A local councilman had introduced Biden.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

"Democrats are the party that cares about people," he said, "and nobody cares about people more than Joe Biden."

Biden loved that.

"Mr. Chairman, I'd like to take you on the road with me," Biden jested at the podium.

Then he let the air settle for a moment.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

"You know what, I used to be, a county councilman," he said. "And the fact of the matter is that you affect the quality of life of the people in your city more than almost anyone else does. I ran for the United States Senate from County Council because it was too hard being a councilman."

Everyone laughed, warmly. Even Biden. Maybe even the Secret Service. But not the media. They had heard the line before, in all of its variants. Anyway, every single candidate uses that formula, "I tried your job and it was so much harder than this whole President thing."

And it was a ridiculous claim every time, brazen pandering. The day a county council job is more important that a seat in Congress is the day our country has collapsed.

*

Somehow, the Boone Co. Fairgrounds did not smell like cow dung and fertilizer. This place was quiet, and empty. While the Iowa State Fair flourished 90 miles away in Des Moines, this was just a vacant fairgrounds. People kept looking around, as if to say, "Where are the rides? the corn dogs? The gaudy Corvettes?"

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Photo by Sean Ryan

Instead, it was lots of countryside noises. The birds and the wind and occasionally a faraway tractor or a pickup truck passing.

The audience stared at Biden with automatic deference, or at least the attentiveness of a friendly crowd. In the back row, a man in a black t-shirt with a quote from Martin Luther King: "The time is always right to do what is right." Beside him, a scrawny twenty-something in a t-shirt that said "I was country before country was cool," next to clipart of some skeletons or American flags or shotguns or something.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

Here, like most of the Iowa campaign events I attended, there were a lot of people in message-laden outfits. Typically, this is considered low-brow, wearing t-shirts with slogans and whatnot. But these were political people, converging on a political event. And politics had become so personal to them that they were literally adorning their body with its better perspectives.

During the rallies, T-shirts turned ideological. Clothing became a platform. Slogans flew from everywhere. Deeper down, maybe these messages were an opportunity, social lottery tickets. Rooted in a desire to connect with others, anyone who might share your opinion.

Or maybe it was because they had come to watch someone important, and all they could do was listen, yet they had a lot to say, so they found other ways to signal who they were and what they believed, and, maybe, Biden would see it and be impressed and they'd be on the same level. It could happen. It would never happen.

*

Biden had sand in his voice.

When he spoke, it lacked the playful jaunt you heard during his tenure as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee for Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Supreme Court confirmation hearings. But it still had that soft acuity. Calming. Without much of an accent despite his having grown up in both Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"No matter how young or old you are, there's not a more important election to participate in," he said. "And we all know who this President is. And we all know — except him I suspect — that the words Presidents speak matter."

He let that phrase linger.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

"They can move markets. They can send brave women and men to war. They can bring peace. They can be a voice of calm in moments of national turmoil. They can console. And they can comfort, in moments of tragedy. They can inspire us to literally go to the Moon. Or they can appeal to our better angels in times of difficulty."

A measured pause.

"Or — Or, they can unleash the deepest, darkest forces in this nation," he said. "And that's what Donald Trump has chosen to do."

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Photo by Sean Ryan

He kept using the word "seriously" after undisputedly serious statements. "Seriously, I mean it," even though everyone already knew that he meant it. Or "seriously, folks, this President is a menace." It was a better way of saying, "Please clap." Only, when Biden did it, it was followed by a natural, perfectly timed clack of applause.

*

Every speech Biden gave in Iowa opened with a description of the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. He described the contorted faces of neo-Nazis, veins bulging from their heads. "Literally," he shouted.

How they emerged from fields like zombies in Nazi regalia, gripping signs with antisemetic slogans, chanting, "Jews will not replace us!" and "Blood and soil."

He said that, in response, Trump referred to the Neo-Nazis and KKK as "very fine people."

Biden told it darkly, like he loved the narrative language. The descriptiveness. Who wouldn't?

Then, he used it as a premise, as unequivocal proof that President Trump was a racist who "gave licence and safe harbor to hate and white supremacy."

In all that sunlight at the Boone Co. Fairgrounds, Biden cut through his stump speech much better than he had the night before at the plumber's union.

*

Occasionally, a train heaved past the field, rumbling the ground. Other times, it would just park on the tracks, blocking so many roads. This seemed to happen a lot in Iowa. And people had to navigate elsewhere to get where they wanted.

"We are, today, in a battle for the soul of this nation," he said. "And that's the primary reason I'm running for President of the United States."

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Photo by Sean Ryan

I don't even have to tell you about the applause because this is the sort of statement that people always clap after.

He said it as if the Presidency represents a kind of fatherhood. At other speeches, he talked about his late son, Beau — as you can imagine, he didn't mention his other son, Hunter, all that often — but at Boone Co. Fairgrounds it was only fatherhood in the symbolic, via anecdotal, sense.

His speech was loaded with snapshots of his own father, who seemed to represent faith in the middle class, or even America itself. His dad was a furnace cleaner in Pennsylvania. His dad lost his job, and it felt like he'd been emasculated. His dad said things like, "Joey, a job is more than a paycheck."

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Photo by Sean Ryan

Biden was building the crescendo of his speech. He could no doubt see the landing perfectly, just a few more maneuvers.

"Seriously, when we passed the Affordable Care Act," he said, with a hint of the jocular, "I told the President it was a big deal, or something to that effect."

A wave of laughter spread through the crowd. He'd landed the joke, a reference to his "this is a big fucking deal" gaffe.

He told the joke often, with unpredictable success, depending on his delivery.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

The subtle allusion to the f-word lands much better than it did the night before. The way he said it, it was less of an in-joke. This approach to profanity marks a distinction between Biden and, say, New Jersey Senator and Democratic candidate Cory Booker, who, during the second debate, used the word "shithole" on live TV, smirking.

Instead, Biden hints. Implies.

As Vice President, he said the f-word near a hot mic, as the nation watched live. It was supposed to be a private moment between him and President Obama. Everybody heard it, and was it really all that bad anyway? Wasn't it kind of charming? His excitement, his conviviality. Another of Joe's gaffes, to some. Middle Class Joe fumbling again.

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Photo by Sean Ryan

Just as much, there's a mystique to Biden's clumsiness. Like how he hastened the legalization of gay marriage in America because he said the wrong thing at the wrong time.

And he didn't do it strategically. It just sort of popped out.

"Now, I know my opponents attack me for, uh, being a little naive," he said, with his low soft gravelly voice. "I find it interesting: I'm the old guy but I'm naive."

People chuckled.

He nodded, as in, "Seriously, though."

*

"We have to reach out," he said. "You know the fact of the matter is, the only way we're gonna get anything done, get this country working together, is if we're able to bring it back together."

Such a nice utopian vision. Which he used as the basis for another attack on Trump.

"We choose truth over lies," he said. "This guy's a pathological — he doesn't tell the truth!"

Measured pause.

"I'll be a President for all Americans," he said. "Democrats, Republicans, Independents. Because that's who we are."

Yes, he was maneuvering the speech toward that perfect landing. He could nail it. He was nailing it.

"Everyone knows who Donald Trump is," he said. "We need to let him who we are." Silence, no reaction. Then a bit softer, moving closer to the mic, "We gotta let him know who we are." In other words, Please clap.

Applause. Lots of applause. Bright as confetti.

"We the people," Biden said, focused on his finale. "That's who we are. We've never fully lived up to that." Then he glided into a recitation of the Preamble of the Constitution, "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union. We hold these truths self evident, that all men and women are created equal." He paused. "America is an idea. An idea."

And in the silence between Biden's closing lines, a red GMC rumbled by and the driver leaned out and shouted, "Biden sucks!"

New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitteror email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

This article originally appeared on Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck

Known for his quick wit, candid opinions and engaging personality, Glenn Beck has attracted millions of viewers and listeners throughout the United States with The Glenn Beck Program. His radio show is now heard on over 400 stations and is... Read more

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