I know it’s very uncool — at least in the precincts of snarky lefty Twitter — to defend Joe Biden, but I’ll give it a try.
The Democratic front-runner is currently touring Iowa on a bus that’s newly emblazoned with his favorite Irish-American slang — “No Malarkey!” — which, for those unfamiliar with the word, roughly means “No BS,” a not-so-implicit swipe at Donald Trump’s serial lying.
Biden has virtually branded the word as his own. During his first presidential bid in 1988, he assailed Republican rhetoric: “Don’t buy all this malarkey!” As the veep in 2012, he mocked Paul Ryan for spouting “a bunch of malarkey.” In 2016, he said that Trump’s promises were “a bunch of malarkey.”
Young snarky lefties on social media think it’s hysterically funny that Biden loves the adjective enough to put it on his bus. Over the weekend, they tweeted a flood of malarkey mockery: “Omg, your bus says malarkey?!? What is this the ’50s?” and “Man I can’t even troll this. Could someone from Biden 2020 please start explaining these things to him.”
On cable TV, Trevor Noah said that nobody knows what malarkey means “unless you’re over the age of 80.” New York magazine weighed in as well, because it’s important to be edgy. Its headline: 77-Year-Old Candidate Hopes ‘No Malarkey’ Will Excite Voters.
Granted, this isn’t the biggest issue in the world — especially now, with a lawless “president” finally on the cusp of impeachment — but it illustrates the chasm that separates the young mockers from current political reality.
For starters, Twitter (which skews young and liberal Democratic) does not mirror the Democratic primary electorate. The Pew Research Center says that only 22 percent of American adults use Twitter, and the most prolific 10 percent account for roughly 80 percent of all tweets. The disproportionate share of tweeters are typically outspoken young people; the disproportionate share of people who actually vote in Democratic primaries and general elections are older adults and seniors.
Or put it this way: Young people aged 18 to 29, who make the most noise on Twitter and mock Biden every day, consistently have the lowest turnout rates. Older adults and seniors consistently have the highest turnout rates. One of the earliest Democratic primary states is Nevada, where the youth turnout rate in 2016 was 5 percent. In South Carolina, another early Democratic state, it was 18 percent — which was actually lower than in 2012.
Biden doesn’t care right now about younger voters, because if they show up at all in the early primaries, they’ll likely choose Bernie or Warren. But older people vote in the greatest numbers, they don’t pay attention to Twitter or the late-night wiseacres, and they like Biden. They’re his base, and they’ve kept him at the top of the Democratic race. The “No Malarkey” slogan is designed specifically for them.
Young people think the slogan is synonymous with old guy, but, as one Biden precinct captain in Iowa told Politico, “Older people know what it means, and older people vote.”
And regardless of whether you support or oppose Biden, you have to admit that the “No Malarkey” slogan attests to his authenticity. If he seems uncool, using a word that traces back to the Jazz Age and beyond, then so be it. He is who he is, take it or leave it. Voters tend to appreciate it when a politician eschews pretense and behaves like a human.
Of course, if Biden does win the nomination — propelled by older voters, and racking up delegates in the most populous states thanks especially to older black voters — he’ll need to gin up support among the young for the home stretch. But that’s a fight for another day, and if young people were to ultimately decide that their landslide hostility toward Trump is somehow outweighed by Biden’s profile as an old guy, the consequences for this nation could be tragic.
They would deserve the blame, not Biden. And that’s no malarkey.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.