Dead Man Riding

In one of my favorite movies, El Cid by Anthony Mann, Charlton Heston plays Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known to history as El Cid. Cid is not only the perfect embodiment of Christian Chivalry, he’s the ideal leader of what could have been a multicultural Spain where Muslims and Catholics lived together in peace and equality. Sadly, Christian Spain isn’t ready for a leader like Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar.

As the film begins, the rival Christian Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon are at war. The cultured Muslim Emirates of Zaragoza and Valancia have been overthrown by a fundamentalist coup led by a bigoted fanatic named Ben Yusuf. The stakes are clear. Unless Christians and Muslims can unite either under Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar or a King who has his full support, Spain will be plunged back into a new dark age of ignorance and religious fundamentalism.

Roderigo does everything he can to drag his people into the light, but the royal family of Castile, to whom he has pledged his loyalty, is corrupt and incestuous, a snake pit full of arrogant backstabbers. When Roderigo spares the life of Yusuf al-Mu’taman ibn Hud, the Emir of Zaragoza, setting up a possible alliance between Castille and the remnants of Al-Andalus, he’s accused of treason. After he demands a trial by combat with the champion of Aragon, he not only clears his name, but wins the city of Callahora for the Christian Princess Urraca of Zamora. After the old King Alfonso VI dies, the Castilian royal family descends into a civil war. The treacherous Urraca, bitter at Roderigo’s rejection of her advances, manipulates her weak willed brother Alfonso into murdering her stronger, braver, but arrogant and foolish brother Sancho. After Cid and Yusuf al-Mu’taman recapture the important border city of Valencia and offer up the crown to Alfonso and Urraca, Alfonso foolishly rides out against Ben Yusuf on his own, refusing to ally himself, either with Roderigo or with a coalition of Muslim Emirs who offer him their alliance, but refuse to bend the knee. Without allies or support, he suffers a crushing defeat, losing most of his army

In the end, Cid, al-Mu’taman, and the now repentant Alfonso make their last stand in front the gates of Valencia. They ride out against the fundamentalist horde, confident that, finally united, they might prevail. But Ben Yusuf’s victory is inevitable. His army is far too large. He controls the sea lanes. Valencia is one, isolated coastal city, and as brave as they are, Cid, al-Mu’taman, and Alfonso cannot defeat the immense host  with a small castle garrison. Eventually, in a battle filmed on location in Valencia, and starring half of the Spanish military as extras, Roderigo is mortally wounded, and his army begins to flee in panic. al-Mu’taman, who is a skilled physician, maintains that he might be able to save Roderigo’s life if he is given time to withdraw the arrow and allow the now legendary Spanish champion to recover. But Roderigo will have none of it. He will not abandon his army. Alive or dead, he will meet Ben Yusuf on the field of battle the following morning. Alfonso, al-Mu’taman, and Roderigo’s wife Donna Ximena honor his final request. After he dies, they strap his body to a horse, mount him at the head of their army, and ride out in one final suicidal, but glorious charge against the forces of darkness.

Now allow me to make an ahistorical comparison.

Donald Trump is Ben Yusuf, the leader of the army of darkness, bigotry and religious fundamentalism. Bernie Sanders is Sancho, the stout, brave, but ultimately one-dimensional and foolish older brother. Elizabeth Warren is the fundamentally decent but weak willed Alfonso. Hillary Clinton is Donna Urraca, the woman scorned, made treacherous and nihilistic by her rejection, willing to manipulate the weak-willed Alfonso into assassination and betrayal, even though it will eventually destroy her own family and her own Kingdom. Joe Biden is El Cid, not Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar while he is alive, but the body of Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, stone cold dead, mounted on his horse at the head his army, and pushed out into battle against Ben Yusuf and the army of darkness, religious fundamentalism and bigotry. The Democratic Party is the small Christian garrison of Valencia, riding bravely to their inevitable doom. al-Mu’taman is nowhere to be seen. I wouldn’t insult a great, historical Prince of Al Andalus by comparing him to Barack Obama.

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. of Scranton Pennsylvania and the Wall Street, credit card, and DuPont colonial possession south of Philadelphia and New Jersey otherwise known as Delaware, is no flawless paragon of Christian Chivalry. It’s hard to imagine Don Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar leaning over to sniff the hair of a terrified 9 year old girl, or humiliating Anita Hill at the Senate confirmation hearings for Clarence Thomas. But for the current Democratic Party old man Biden is their most representative politician and in the end their indispensable champion.

A member of the Senate when I was in Kindergarten, and the Vice President of the United States under the first African America President, Biden has a list of institutional supporters that is second to none. African American politicians and religious leaders in the South have already pledged their loyalty. The Democratic Party establishment in Washington and their fund raisers in New York and California see him as the safe choice, not only to beat Trump, but to leave their kids’ trust funds alone. The health insurance industry is counting on him to stop Medicare for All. The military industrial complex, the Ukraine Lobby, and the intelligence agencies see him as an ally against Vladimir Putin and the Yellow Peril in China. The woke upper-middle-class led by Elizabeth Warren see him as their only option to stop another white man from becoming the Democratic nominee for President, that white man of course being Bernie Sanders. Wall Street is already counting the money they’re going to pocket after the inevitable “grand bargain” with Mitch McConnell to privatize Social Security. Even the supporters of Bernie Sanders, as “woke” in many ways as the supporters of Elizabeth Warren, are probably willing to stomach the old white guy from Scranton, hoping that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will step in to lead the Democratic Party left after Sanders retires.

Indeed when John Lewis, now suffering from terminal cancer, inevitably endorses Biden on his death bed, that should seal it. Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party nominee. The only problem is that Biden is unlikely to live John Lewis by more than a few years. Unlike Sanders, who still seems lucid and energetic, Joe Biden is clearly showing his years. At times he doesn’t seem fully aware of what city he’s campaigning in or what decade it is, but none of that matters. Even if Biden dies on the campaign trail, he is still the Democratic Party’s irreplaceable champion. So get ready to see the DNC strap him to the back of his horse and send him into battle. Donald Trump and the forces of darkness, bigotry and religious fundamentalism are all going to laugh themselves to death.

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