Joe Biden: My Political Hero

Ask me any time since 1984 which politician I admire and trust the most, my answer would be consistent:  Joe Biden.    I supported his run for the Presidency in 2008 and was delighted when Barack Obama chose him to be his running mate.

Part of the reason I’m a Biden fan is personal.  In the mid-eighties I worked as a legislative aide to Senator Larry Pressler (R-SD).   Joe Biden’s office on the top floor of the Russell Senate office building was just around the corner from where I worked, and over the course of those two years I had a number of conversations with Biden.   No, we weren’t buddies — the conversations all took place in the elevator.

The first one involved tacos.  I had gone down to the staff cafeteria where they had “make your own tacos” and built a couple very impressive tacos to eat at my desk.  Biden got in the elevator and looked at the tacos wide eyed.  “Wow,” he said, “those are amazing tacos, where did you get them?”   When I told him he lamented about how stuffy the Senate Dining Room was.   I think every time he saw me after that he called me the “taco guy.”

Our conversations were superficial.   When he found out I was working on my MA at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (now the Nitze School) he mentioned that it was an excellent institution.   But most of the time the banter was what you’d expect from people who work in the same building and see each other rarely and only on the elevator — pretty insubstantial.

That itself was impressive, however.   The Senator on the other side was John Warner of Virginia.   He’d stand aloof in the elevator and not make eye contact, puffing his Virginia cigar while standing in front of the “Do Not Smoke in the Elevator” sign.  I did get to see Warner’s ex-wife, Elizabeth Taylor.   I was walking down the hall and saw a woman walking the other way.   She looked down but as she passed glanced up at me.  I smiled and nodded a hello, she smiled back — once I saw her eyes I knew it was her (and the papers confirmed she had visited her ex-husband on the hill that day).

Yet the reason I admire Biden is because he is honest, genuine, intelligent and has never lost his connection to average folk.   He personifies the traits most people want in a leader.

Biden is on the far right, sitting with his siblings Valerie and Jimmy

Biden’s biography is well known.   He grew up as a member of the working class poor, his father struggling to make ends meet, first in Scranton, PA and then Wilmington, DE.   His father finally became a reasonably successful used car salesman and the family moved to the middle class.    A stutterer as a child, he practiced in front of the mirror to become a successful speaker.   He worked his way through law school, avoiding service in Vietnam, yet not protesting the war.

He had married Neilia Hunter in 1966, and his son Beau was born in 1969.   In 1972 everything changed.   Republican Senator J. Caleb Boggs was considering retirement, but President Nixon convinced him to run one more time.   No prominent Democrat in Delaware wanted to take on Boggs, so Biden stepped in.   He had little money or formal support, and ran on a platform of opposition to the Vietnam war and being an outsider who would bring change to Washington.

At age 29 he was elected to the US Senate, but a month later just after his 30th birthday tragedy struck

Delaware is a small state.  Biden’s youthful energy and exuberance found him campaigning everywhere, all the time.   In a shocker, Biden outsted Boggs on November 7, 1972 by just over 3000 votes.   At age  30 Biden had become one of the youngest Senators in history.

The next month tragedy struck.    His wife and one year old daughter were killed in an automobile accident, with his sons Beau and Hunter critically injured.   Biden’s world fell apart.   He considered resigning, but was convinced to stay on.   To care for his young sons he started commuting via Amtrak everyday to DC, but lacked passion and focus.    He was angry and doubted his religious faith; he had hit bottom.   His staff didn’t think he’d be able to keep up — being so successful so young, he now didn’t know where to turn.

Neilia and Joe Biden with their two sons

But he had two boys to care for.   So he trudged on.   In 1975 he met Jill Jacobs and married her in 1977.   They had one daughter together, and he threw himself into his work as a US Senator, becoming known for his expertise in both legal issues and foreign relations.   He almost died in 1988 due to an aneurysm that doctors successfully treated.

Biden has consistently been ranked as one of the least wealthy Senators, with a net worth of about $300,000.    That itself says a lot.   Some go to Washington to make connections and build their fortune, Biden focused on public service.    The only scandal he was involved in came when he ran for President in 1988 and one of his speech writers borrowed language from Neil Kinnock of the British Labor party.   When that came out, people dug and found that he had been accused of plagiarism in his first year of law school.   That hurt his Presidential bid, but otherwise in forty years he’s had a squeaky clean record.

One  reason I’ve always admired Biden is that he connects with people.  He understands the human side of politics.  It shows in the way he’d talk to a young Senate staffer on the elevator, his famous friendships with Amtrak employees during his years of commuting to DC, and his focus on policies to help average folk.   His reputation as a foreign policy expert is immense — if he had not been Vice President, he’d probably have become Secretary of State.

He is an honest, hard working man who understands how policies affect real people in a city full of corrupt lazy and vain people who think in terms of abstract power games.   His famous gaffes are a mark that he is genuine.  He says what he thinks, he doesn’t force himself to stick to a politically correct script.

While Republicans praise Ryan’s intellect, Biden brings both intellect and four decades of experience into tonight’s debate

Tonight Vice President Biden takes the stage in what may be his last big political campaign event, debating Wisconsin Senator Paul Ryan.   Ryan is smart in an abstract sort of way, and perhaps has the capacity to become a superb all around political leader.   But he’s no Joe Biden.

Yes, I support Obama over Romney, so for that reason alone I would want Biden to do well tonight.   Yet I also hope that Biden does a superb job to cap what is likely the final campaign of a man whose intelligence, integrity and character is admired by even his political opponents.

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  1. #1 by lbwoodgate on October 11, 2012 - 11:48

    Biden reminds me of a good friend who lives in Tennessee. Both are involved in politics to improve the quality of life for working class people and are genuinely personable with everyone they meet.

    Like Biden my friend loves to put his hand on your shoulder as he talks to you and is always smiling as he listen. You can tell by the way he’s looking at you that he has a sincere interests in what you’re saying but he pulls no punches and let’s you know in civil terms when he thinks your full of yourself.

    Regardless, you always walk away liking the guy even if you disagree with him.

  2. #2 by Jeff Fordham on October 11, 2012 - 17:51

    Scott
    My company was involved in the historical restoration of the original Pennsylvania railroad station in Wilmington Delaware (the current Amtrack station) way back in the mid 80s . It was a long and arduous job lasting almost a year. The winter was one of the coldest in a long time, and my crew spent all of it outside working on the facade on the 9 story scaffolding. Senator Biden just popped up one day in the building walking from floor to floor and talking to all of the guys about the extent of the restoration, how long they had been working in their trade etc. He was absolutely genuine, and so easy to chat with. He told us he was waiting for the train to DC and was curious about all the work being done. Since he rides Amtrack to DC nearly 2-3 times a week he was at the station quite a bit and stopped in over the months to chat with anyone who would talk to him about the project and how it was coming along. I have never been more impressed with how sincere and friendly he was to everyone as a sitting senator. Delaware loves him because he is the real deal.

    Fast forward in the late 1990s I had a chance to meet then senator Rick Santorum at a public event in southeastern PA. During the whole 20 minutes I got the feeling he disliked the entire time and was counting the minutes to where he could move on. He was standoffish to the point of seeming like an arrogant dick. My then business associate was enamored with Ricky, and was filling his war chest with tax free money but he too confided with me later he seemed irritated and distant.

    I get a sense to this day the Biden is still that guy I met and chatted with several times who really was down to earth and curious about people……. and Ricky is even more angry and obsessed than he was in the 1990s for losing by 18% in his last senate race, and crashing in the recent primaries.

    I hope Biden tears Eddie Munster a new asshole tonight…………….that little twit needs to be smacked down a few pegs !

  3. #3 by Snoring Dog Studio on October 11, 2012 - 20:19

    Thank you so much for this, Scott. It’s great to see the human side of the people we like and want to do well. Biden sounds like a wonderful human being.

  4. #4 by Norbrook on October 11, 2012 - 20:31

    Excellent posting, Scott. What I’ve always liked about Biden is not just that he connects well with people, but he also has a sense of humor, and doesn’t mind laughing at himself. Some of my favorite moments are watching him either breaking up, or struggling not to break up.

  5. #5 by Ron Byrnes on October 11, 2012 - 22:43

    If this was a mile race, Biden ran two laps before Ryan completed one. But then he seemed overconfident and possibly even condescending (for sure in the eyes of R’s) and Ryan deserves credit for maintaining his poise—which is hard to do when someone laps you in the first half of the race. Ryan faired much better over the second half, actually closed the gap, but not enough for the win.

  6. #6 by Kate on October 12, 2012 - 09:24

    Love reading this post, Scott. Looking forward to reading your reaction to last night’s debate, too!

  7. #7 by elizjamison on October 12, 2012 - 10:20

    I appreciate your post, but I was bothered by the amount of times that Biden laughed or chuckled at Ryan. At one point, I turned the sound off and it was apparent that Biden thought Ryan was a joke. Although I respect the person Biden is, I don’t feel like he acted with as much integrity as he could have. It was obvious that Biden was a seasoned speaker, however. As a republican, I was rooting for Ryan – – so it was hard to watch.

    • #8 by classicliberal2 on October 12, 2012 - 11:03

      It’s interesting to me how Paul Ryan can serially lie with almost literally every breath, yet Republicans watching it think Biden is the one being rude for reacting to that.

    • #9 by Scott Erb on October 12, 2012 - 13:18

      Oh, I agree – I was almost screaming at the TV, “stop laughing, stop smirking, don’t roll your eyes, be patient!” I honestly think Biden has a bit of ADHD, it’s like he physically couldn’t restrain himself (though later in the debate, perhaps as he got a bit tired, he calmed and was more dignified). I think Biden would have clearly come out ahead if it wasn’t for his stylistic errors. I don’t think he meant it to be disrespectful, but it did come off that way.

      • #10 by classicliberal2 on October 13, 2012 - 19:45

        And, again, it’s rather remarkable to me that virtually everything Ryan says is a lie, most of said lies intended to besmirch Obama/Biden, yet Biden is the one who is said to be “disrespectful.”

  8. #11 by dirtnrocksnomo on October 12, 2012 - 13:57

    Overall I thought it was a good debate with Biden clearly winning. Ryan looked unprepared for the national stage.

    • #12 by Norbrook on October 12, 2012 - 17:00

      I said on another blog that it looked like the Republicans prepared Ryan for their caricature of Biden. That is, that he’s a walking gaffe machine who is not too bright, something of a joke. What Ryan faced was the highly accomplished Joe Biden who was one of the foreign policy experts when he was in the Senate, and who has been through more than a few national campaigns.

  9. #13 by thenewamericanlondoner on October 12, 2012 - 15:57

    I think it was a response to Romney’s apparent aggressive style last week. A bit of overcompensation, sure, but I think he both thought and was instructed to come out swinging and be as little like Obama as possible last week.

    • #14 by Jeff Fordham on October 12, 2012 - 17:48

      Uncle Joe did exactly what he was supposed to do…….and quite frankly its what the president should have done. Sadly, the old rules of decorum no longer apply in this nation, and haven’t for a long time. Ever take a walk through any town or store and see what slobs many Americans have become ? The factless and apathetic masses here in the United States can only get excited anymore with a reality show style altercation where one tries to trump the other with “zingers” and aspersions. Obama did a mediocre job at making a technical case last week but lost in the “visual” form of defending himself and thats why people decided he lost. Of course Romney “looked” more like a candidate ……with the coiffe and the chisel jaw of Ted Knight, and thats what a lot of Americans……I am sure …..responded to……never mind the distorted facts or the 64 major 180 degree flips flops since 2008. Many Americans are easily mezmurized by the carny barker style of Romney ……..who I bet would do well on the infomercial circuit hustling everything from time shares to crappy gadgets for the house.

      I went to one of Mittens town hall meetings in Montgomery county PA back during the 2008 campaign I was shocked at how weak his arguments were, but was surprised at how some people didn’t seem to mind. It was then that I got the feeling of the carny barker in the striped vest….bamboo cane and straw hat ….trying to get the stupid to pay 10 cents to go into the tent and see the bearded lady……………especially when he said that America had the best healthcare system in the world and that anyone could just show up at a hospital to get care. ( yes he said this in 2008 just like he did 2 weeks ago) A 75 year old woman at the town hall yelled out “thats expensive crisis care which you could lose your house to”……….”its not healthcare Mr. Romney” ……poor Mittens got a quick deer in the headlights look and proceeded onward with some more talking points………..nothing more.

      Here it was the major reason I attended the town hall meeting….the topic of healthcare, and I was interested in the plan he put into place, and wanted to see if he had plans as the president to do the same thing nationwide. That was all he said about healthcare………Emergency rooms ! I was shocked to say the least. …I decided that day that Mittens was just another empty suit……..like so many others.

      I heard a couple pundits today on publica radio say ” Ryan looked like a little kid who had his bike stolen” ……………..rather fitting in my book

  10. #15 by Alan Scott on October 12, 2012 - 17:22

    I guess we all saw just what we wanted to see in the debate . When I saw Vice President Biden derisively laughing at Congressman Ryan , I thought he was amazingly foolish . Have Democrats learned nothing from Al Gore’s debate with Bush ?

    And can anyone defend what Vice President Biden said about the Libyan Consulate attack response ?

    • #16 by thenewamericanlondoner on October 12, 2012 - 18:45

      I thought he looked like he’d just come from soccer practice, his opening gambit being self-hydration.

      Laughing derisively but righteously and with some justification at the ludicrousness of your opponent’s arguments whilst he is casually sitting across from you is hardly the stuff of the Al Gore audible sigh. We sympathized with Joe if he was impatient because he had to sit and listen to vacuous waffle.

      What’s to defend? A) Romney/Ryan’s response wasn’t vastly dissimilar, B) Every administration is going to make mistakes. It’s how you deal with those mistakes that distinguishes your character.

  11. #17 by Alan Scott on October 13, 2012 - 07:31

    thenewamericanlondoner ,

    I agree with you that the way they dealt with this distinguished their character .

  12. #18 by Titfortat on October 13, 2012 - 17:12

    Thanks for that Scott. I was impressed with how he had the fortitude to not only continue on after the death of his wife and child but how he was able to be extremley successful also. It reminded me of my mother who lost her husband(my father) at 32 and then went on over the next 8yrs to get a MSW while raising 3 young children.

  13. #19 by thenewamericanlondoner on October 13, 2012 - 19:23

    On the other hand, I think that Ryan was good at using empty emotional blackmail. I love being a father too and many of us give in utero nicknames to our children, but it doesn’t mean I want to impose my beliefs on others. I felt like he was trying to make up for the lack of personal life experience he has that, for better or worse, adds integrity to Joe Biden’s bid for the job.

  14. #20 by SShiell on October 14, 2012 - 01:30

    Biden’s performance reminds me of Clint Eastwoods’ comments regarding the Vice President: “Just kind of a grin with a body behind it.” Prophetic, don’t you think?

  15. #21 by thenewamericanlondoner on October 14, 2012 - 11:13

    You’re quoting Eastwood? Eastwood? You do remember the Republican Party Conference and his descent into incoherence, don’t you? You want to watch that.

    • #22 by SShiell on October 14, 2012 - 15:51

      “You want to watch that.”

      Tell that to the “empty chair”!!

      • #23 by thenewamericanlondoner on October 14, 2012 - 17:15

        Very well played indeed.

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