Biden, Obama take steps to fill glaring leadership vacuum

Over the last 24 hours, Barack Obama and Joe Biden practically took turns trying to fill the nation's leadership vacuum.
Image: President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden
US President Barack Obama arrives with US Vice President Joe Biden to speak on gun control and the vote at the US Senate on April 17, 2013 in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN / AFP - Getty Images, file

Former President Barack Obama published a piece to Medium yesterday, sketching out "some thoughts on how to make this moment a real turning point to bring about real change." The missive, which was only about 1,000 words, was clearly intended by its author to be constructive and help lay the groundwork for sustained and meaningful change.

But in the process, Obama also helped create a striking contrast between his message to the public and his successor's.

The former president began by acknowledging the legitimacy of the protests, emphasizing the fact that the vast majority of protestors have been peaceful, and condemning those who've turned to violence. Obama went on to explain the importance not only of voting, but of the relevance of voting in state and local elections, where police reforms can have the greatest impact.

He added, as part of an effort to move the process forward, "[A]s a starting point, here's a report and toolkit developed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and based on the work of the Task Force on 21st Century Policing that I formed when I was in the White House. And if you're interested in taking concrete action, we've also created a dedicated site at the Obama Foundation to aggregate and direct you to useful resources and organizations who've been fighting the good fight at the local and national levels for years."

This wasn't the point of Obama's piece, but it stood as a reminder of what a president sounds like -- and how leaders should try to use their platforms.

But the former president isn't alone in trying to fill the nation's leadership vacuum; his former vice president is trying to step up, too.

Joe Biden on Tuesday praised the nationwide peaceful protests to the death of George Floyd, calling his killing in police custody a "wake-up call for our nation" and drawing a stark contrast between President Donald Trump's tactics and how he would respond.

Biden delivered the remarks in Philadelphia -- the same city Obama delivered his famous "A More Perfect Union" speech in March 2016. (It also comes a day after Biden met with community leaders at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Delaware.)

"Look, the presidency is a big job," the Democratic candidate said this morning. "Nobody will get everything right. And I won't either. But I promise you this. I won't traffic in fear and division. I won't fan the flames of hate. I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country -- not use them for political gain."

Biden's remarks included a policy component, including endorsing police-reform measures, most notably a proposed national ban on chokeholds. He added that he would launch a police-oversight commission within 100 days of his inauguration. Just as importantly, Biden emphasized that issues such as health care and pay equity are pieces of the same larger puzzle.

But as the former vice president was poised to speak this morning, the man he hopes to replace was on Twitter, thanking himself for cities with diminished unrest last night, and touting the importance of "domination" over certain Americans. It came the day after an offensive against peaceful protestors cleared a path so Trump could briefly pose in front of a church for no reason.

It was as if each of the relevant players were collectively trying to create the clearest possible contrast.