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  1. Opinion

A clear choice for president: The Times Editorial Board recommendation

Joe Biden promises needed change.

Joe Biden should be our next president. A battered and divided country must hit the reset button. The nation needs a leader who can pull us back together, who wants to pull us back together. Sure, disagree on policies and debate the issues. But a president should not routinely sow discord. Self-promotion should not be his best skill. Our allies should not wince when the president speaks. The less fortunate should feel they are a part of us, not castoffs on a cruel game show. Biden promises needed change. The alternative could be perilous for our democracy.

Biden knows tragedy, and he’s at his best when talking about moving beyond it. He lost a wife and infant daughter to a car accident and an adult son to a brain tumor. He speaks of pain and healing and recovery — with authority and empathy. He comforts military families, knowing how it feels to send a son into a combat zone. He still believes in the legislative process, even when it’s divisive and bogged down. He hasn’t lost his faith in the system and looks for ways to bring sides together. Biden is not afraid of the hard work involved in finding common ground. To him, compromise isn’t a dirty word, but he’s also known to fight hard for what he believes, like when he championed the Violence Against Women Act in the 1990s.

Biden was a middle-class kid, the son of a car salesman. He spent 36 years in the U.S. Senate and 8 as vice president, a confidante and partner to President Barack Obama. That Obama liked Biden isn’t surprising. Even Biden’s old political opponents describe him as congenial and decent. But Biden was often the last person Obama consulted before settling on big decisions. Obama trusted him and relied on his loyalty. It’s the kind of relationship we hope a President Biden would form with his own vice president, Kamala Harris.

Biden’s adversaries try to paint him as beholden to liberal extremists, but the record exposes that tired political tactic. He has worked with Republicans on foreign policy and criminal justice. He has backed protesters' right to protest, but condemned looting and violence. He’s a centrist, willing to push big ideas, but also capable of keeping his own party’s left wing in check.

Biden’s sensible, pragmatic approach to leadership will help the country combat the coronavirus. He has vowed to be transparent about who’s contracting the disease and how often. He’ll trust the experts and the scientists as we push for a vaccine. He won’t rush the recovery to score political points. To protect himself and those around him, he’ll wear a mask, setting an example of good judgment.

Trump has not protected Americans from the coronavirus, which has killed more than 210,000 of our neighbors. Adjusted for population, that’s four times as many as Russia, five times as many as Germany and 50 times as many as Japan. The virus is not Trump’s fault. But his failure to take the crisis seriously and rally the country to a common cause contributed to American casualties. At the outset, Trump publicly pooh-poohed the virus, even as he was privately telling journalist Bob Woodward it was a grave danger. There is no better example of Trump’s central character flaw: He will always put self-interest above national interest.

Where Trump and his allies want to take away access to health care, Biden will work to improve and expand it, including lowering the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 60. He would keep the Affordable Care Act and try to reinstate the parts eroded during Trump’s tenure. He proposes capping health insurance premiums at 8.5 percent of family income.

Biden would work to shore up the country’s environmental policies. He was an early leader on measures to combat climate change but would not end fracking for natural gas, another example of his balanced approach. He accepts the settled science of a warming Earth and understands the importance of acting now, not pushing the problem off on future generations. That would be good news for Florida, a state particularly vulnerable to sea level rise. Biden will reverse Trump’s decision to take the United States out of the Paris Agreement on climate action, which hurt the country’s credibility with our partners around the world. It took an election year for Trump to swear off drilling near Florida’s coast. But how can anyone trust that he would keep his word?

Biden would be better than Trump on so many other issues. He would appoint judges more likely to protect same-sex marriage and a woman’s control over her own body. He would push for higher taxes on the very wealthy — something most Americans support — to bolster programs like Social Security. He recognizes the tensions created by the enormous gap between the wealthy and the poor, while his opponent happily gives tax breaks to the rich.

Trump is angry, divisive, entitled. Biden is open, empathetic, caring. He would return decency and decorum to the presidency, a welcome example at home and abroad. Biden wouldn’t be beholden — or bewitched — by thugs like Kim Jong Un in North Korea or Vladimir Putin in Russia, and he would rebuild relationships with allies that share American values and interests.

Biden is not perfect. No candidate is. His long legislative record includes choices that look bad in hindsight, including a crime bill in the 1990s that sent thousands of people to prison, many of them Black, and a vote in 2002 to authorize the invasion of Iraq. He is prone to rhetorical gaffes and insensitive comments. He is also 77, and would be the oldest president ever elected, though Trump is only three years younger. But voters must compare Biden’s character, capacity and values to the alternative.

In the final weeks of the 2016 campaign, we wrote: “Donald Trump is stunningly unprepared and temperamentally unfit for the presidency, and he has played upon our deepest fears and worst impulses with reckless rhetoric, wild promises and flagrant disregard for the truth.” Trump has undermined democracy at every turn, belittling American institutions including the intelligence community, wailing about “rigged” elections, flirting with white supremacists, cozying up to dictators, dismissing established science, and attacking anyone who disagrees with him — even those who have served his administration.

Trump hasn’t created law and order, as he often boasts. To the contrary, he has fanned violence with his rhetoric, and he shows little respect for the rule of law. When his longtime ally Roger Stone was convicted of making false statements, witness tampering and obstructing in connection with the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Trump came to the rescue by commuting his sentence. Trump’s cronies get indicted and convicted at an astounding rate. He’s also pardoned several of his lawbreaking friends and supporters, a trend surely to continue if he is elected to a second term.

In the last four years, Trump has failed to tackle an infrastructure bill, keep the national debt in check or significantly shrink the trade deficit, all promises he made. Remember the border wall? About 300 miles have been built since Trump became president, nearly all of which replaced or complimented existing barriers. And Mexico hasn’t paid for any of them.

Trump loves to bluster, hates to plan, revels in chaos and lacks concern for anyone but himself. He is hurting America.

Over a long career and the gantlet of a presidential campaign, Biden outmatches his opponent at every turn. He’s a decent man and a leader who can help heal the country and put it back on course to meet the pressing challenges of our times. America needs a new president. The Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board strongly recommends Democrat Joe Biden.

Related: All of the Times Editorial Board recommendations
Related: How the Times makes its political recommendations.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Times Chairman and CEO Paul Tash, Editor of Editorials Graham Brink (gbrink@tampabay.com), and editorial writers Elizabeth Djinis, John Hill and Jim Verhulst. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news

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