Winning Was the Easy Part

Winning Was the Easy Part

Now Joe Biden needs to repair a badly broken country.

When President-elect Joe Biden last served in Washington, he lived on the campus of the United States Naval Observatory. Each time his motorcade exited its gates and veered onto Massachusetts Avenue, it passed the Master Clock, a digital timepiece perched in front of the compound’s driveway that synchronizes every other government clock.

Through the car window, Biden would stare, transfixed: “Red numbers glowed, ticking away in metronomic perfection: 5:11:42, 5:11:43, 5:11:44, 5:11:45,” he writes in the opening pages of his memoir about his son’s death. The clock would fade into the distance, but Biden clung to its image, “still marking the time as it melted away.”

Electoral triumph is usually the moment when candidates imagine themselves to be politically invincible and luxuriate in boundless reveries about all that they might accomplish. But even before the Democrats looked likely to stall in their effort to retake the Senate, Biden’s campaign carried an unspoken sense of limits. He will be 78 when he finally takes office, older than anyone who has assumed the presidency before him. The Master Clock might not be an everyday presence in his life anymore, but it will loom in his calculus.