There’s no returning to normal

Presidential campaigns have their messaging, and then they have their stories.

The first tells you what the candidate intends to do with your vote; the second tells you why that candidate, among all the others, is the one to do what you want done.

And while plenty of 2020 Democrats have come out with strong messaging and clear narratives, it’s notable that former vice president Joe Biden, who holds a steady (though slipping) lead in almost all polls, really seems to have only a story: Vote for Joe Biden so things can go back to normal.

With his promises of bipartisan cooperation and his reported efforts to attract GOP donors, Biden’s campaign seems premised on the idea that only a reasonable, moderate man such as him - civil with Republicans and Democrats alike - can return a semblance of normalcy to Washington. He aims not just to invoke the Obama era, which surely felt like normalcy to a great swath of his potential voters, but also the politics of the 1970s and ’80s, when he was a senator.

He’s a nostalgia broker, in other words, for a time when politics felt predictable and stable, and the men in Washington respected one another - as did, we’re meant to gather, their constituents.

Of course, normalcy is always a limited and specific sensation. Plenty of Americans certainly did not experience the ’70s and ’80s as halcyon days: The great era of Democratic-Republican consensus-building that Biden harks back to was built in part around the exclusion of black Americans, for instance.


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