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RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.: To be a good president, it helps to be a good person

With the 2024 presidential election less than a year away, and the political tea leaves suggesting that the contest will boil down to something no one wants — a rematch between Donald Trump and Joe Biden — I’m giving Biden another look.

And it’s not just because Trump is so terrible. I’m offended, in fact, that the Biden campaign’s entire re-election strategy seems to be scaring voters into supporting the Democrat to prevent a second Trump-ageddon.

I refuse to fall for that ploy. Rather, what’s pushing me to give Biden a second chance is that, even as a frequent Biden critic who was quick to proclaim his presidency a failure after its first year, I’ve started lately to see glimpses of the Biden I like. Suddenly, I see his good qualities.

I may be in the minority.

According to Gallup, Biden’s latest job approval rating is a pathetic 37 percent. That means nearly two-thirds of Americans think the president is doing a bad job. He is struggling on all fronts, foreign and domestic.

According to the poll, only 32 percent think Biden is doing a good job in handling the economy and the same percentage for the war in the Middle East.

Biden doesn’t even inspire confidence within his own party. A recent poll by the New York Times and Siena College of voters in six battleground states found that 62 percent of Democrats who backed Biden in 2020 rated the economy as “fair” or “poor.”

And in a September survey from Reuters and Ipsos, three-quarters of respondents, including nearly two-thirds of Democrats, said Biden is too old to be president.

Just 39 percent said Biden was mentally sharp enough for the job.

But as much as Democratic leaders and the liberal media want to frame Biden’s unpopularity as being solely about age — so they can dismiss as “ageist” anyone who raises the issue — his problems extend to his policies. Biden has been criticized by many on the left for breaking promises or backtracking on a host of issues including police reform, student loan debt, gun control, immigration reform and voting rights. Biden’s support from Latinos, African Americans and young voters has cratered.

Part of the problem is that Biden is the consummate politician, having been in the game for more than 50 years. He’s used to breaking promises; compromising with opponents; criticizing a policy (such as building a border wall), then adopting it; and delivering half a loaf when supporters were expecting a full one.

Yet, I still see some good in Biden. He has three qualities essential to leadership that Trump lacks. Think of them as the three E’s: empathy, experience and emotional intelligence.

Biden has a deep reservoir of empathy that he can draw on because, having endured the deaths of his first wife and two of his children, he knows what it’s like to suffer excruciating heartache and pain. And when he tries to comfort people after a tragedy — especially those who have lost loved ones — his words appear to come not from talking points but from the heart.

He has valuable real-world experience owing to the decades he has spent in public life. That pays off in the realm of foreign affairs. Whether he is meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, or rallying NATO members to support Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression, or working to extend the pause in fighting in the Middle East, Biden must draw confidence from the fact that this isn’t his first rodeo.

Finally, Biden has more than his share of emotional intelligence. Maybe that’s something he picked up during a long career of meeting voters, listening to their concerns and trying to improve their lives. For all his stumbles, when he has to deliver a big speech that is about helping people — i.e., the State of the Union address or the U.S. response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel — Biden isn’t afraid to show emotion.

In a president, these are not trivial attributes. Americans want to elect someone they respect, but also someone they admire because he or she is a decent person who will show the global community the best of what it means to be an American.

On that score, Biden offers America a positive example. Whereas Trump always seems more interested in what America can offer him.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is crimscribe@icloud.com. His podcast, “Ruben in the Center,” is available through every podcast app.

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