Big Week for Shelby County Politics Features Joe Biden 

click to enlarge Biden at the Orpheum

Jackson Baker

Biden at the Orpheum

What a week! What a weekend! Local political junkies of every stripe had plenty of occasions to nourish their activism. In addition to several fund-raisers and meet-and-greets for specific candidates in this year's elections, there were debates, forums, and other kinds of smorgasbords featuring several at once.

The highlight of local Democrats' week was surely the appearance on Friday night of former Vice President Joe Biden, who brought his "American Promise Tour" to the Orpheum. Biden's visit, a ticketed affair, was part revival and part book-tour stop (for Biden's new volume, Promise Me, Dad: a Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, about his son Beau's illness and ultimate death from brain cancer.)

With his regular-guy persona and tell-it-like-it-is style, Biden inarguably kindled the kind of political enthusiasm that Hillary Clinton could have used in 2016 and that Biden seems eager to deploy in 2020 against Donald J. Trump.

Not that Biden talked up a race; in fact, he got one of his most animated reactions when he complained about the unnamed Washington scribe who suggested that his book was a calculated bid for sympathy prior to a presidential run. The crowd's murmur of outrage morphed into delighted laughter when Biden muttered something about administering a personal corrective to "the sonofabitch."

Biden's appeal is based partly on that kind of plain talk and partly, too, on his ability to revivify a kind of unpretentious patriotism that is either left unsaid these days or is more often obscured by the gaslight of insincere platitudes.

When host Terri Lee Freeman of the National Civil Rights Museum asked Biden what he had meant by writing that he was nostalgic for the American future, the author of that seemingly oxymoronic sentiment furrowed his brow as if wondering himself what he had meant by the line. But what followed was a wonderfully developed disquisition on the process of regaining the forefathers' democratic dream of a just and honest realm that resolved the paradox perfectly.

On Saturday morning, Republicans turned out en masse for the opening of the party's 2018 campaign headquarters in the Trinity Commons shopping center. Shelby County party chair Lee Mills introduced GOP candidates in the forthcoming county general election and federal and state primaries on August 2nd. Partisans of both political parties got close-up looks at the rival candidates for Shelby County mayor and Tennessee governor when Republican mayoral candidate David Lenoir and Democratic candidate Lee Harris squared away on Wednesday at the Kiwanis Club. And four candidates for governor appeared on Thursday at a forum on legal issues before members of the Tennessee Bar Association. At the mayoral event, moderated by WREG-TV anchor Stephanie Scurlock at the University Club, Lenoir put forth his standard goals of "great jobs, great schools, and safe streets" while boasting his achievements in managing Shelby county's financial assets as trustee for the last eight years. Harris said he intended to focus on the themes of poverty, injustice, and residual segregation, and recounted occasions when he took the lead in resolving difficult issues as a city councilman and as state Senate Democratic leader.

Participating in the bar association event at The Peabody were Democrats Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh, as well as Republicans Beth Harwell and Randy Boyd. The candidates were interviewed sequentially by Commercial Appeal editor Mark Russell on such issues as criminal justice reform, judicial redistricting, and the desirability of changes in school-zone drug laws.

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