Biden made the right decision

Story highlights

  • Vice President Joe Biden announces he won't run for president
  • Sally Kohn: Path to winning the Democratic nomination certainly wasn't clear, let alone easy

Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter: @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)It's hard not to like Joe Biden. I've seen him speak in person several times, and his love for people and politics is downright infectious. I'm sad he announced Wednesday he is not running for president, because he's fun and he would have lit up the campaign.

But I think he made the right decision.
Sally Kohn
The path to winning the Democratic nomination certainly wasn't clear, let alone easy, and it's better for Biden to end his career at the high point of the vice presidency rather than try for the presidency once again and fail. And while Biden seems genuinely to relish campaigning, campaigns are getting less and less fun by the day. The truth is that a Biden candidacy would have been enjoyable for voters (and the media). But it probably wouldn't have been very enjoyable for Biden.
    More substantively, a Biden candidacy might simply have muddied the otherwise helpfully clear waters between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
    Take the first Democratic debate, where Clinton tried to argue that her plan for how to deal with the ills and excesses of Wall Street was "more comprehensive" and "tougher" than Sanders'. Sanders' response? "Well, that's not true."
    On this issue, Sanders is right. He is a lifelong economic populist, to the point where he's not afraid to criticize the structural failings of capitalism and change the underlying rules of the game to make sure the economy helps poor people and working families. Clinton, on the other hand, has certainly embraced some of the rhetoric of populism in her latest campaign. But the extent to which it courses through her bones -- let alone her policies -- is questionable.
    In the middle of this debate would have been Biden.
    The vice president has more populist street cred from the get-go, especially rhetorically. I don't think I've ever heard Biden speak without mentioning his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania. More importantly, despite a lofty career since then, he's always managed to maintain a straight shooter, "Regular Joe" style.
    But on policies, he's more closely aligned with Clinton than Sanders. Biden voted in favor of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed part of the Glass-Steagall Act, opening the door to banks to engage in the wild risk-taking that crashed the economy. Biden sided with big banks in making it harder for Americans to reduce their amount of student debt. And Biden supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal (as Clinton did for a while before recently changing her view).
    With a little more than a year until the presidential election, it's essential for Democratic voters -- and Americans in general -- to see a debate in the primaries in which conventional centrist economic policy is exposed and evaluated in light of a viable, populist alternative. Clinton and Sanders are having that very real and important debate. "Regular Joe," who repeatedly promotes centrist policies that most help the country's elite, would have unhelpfully complicated things.
    "I can die a happy man never having been president of the United States of America," Biden once told a reporter. "But it doesn't mean I won't run."
    Now, apparently he won't run. And while we should be grateful for his public service up until now, his decision is also a public service -- because the Democratic primary will run better without him.