Joe Biden is often the forgotten man in the White House. He’s out of the news for two or three weeks before popping back up to make some salient point or at least provide an interesting sound byte. In many ways, Joe Biden has been reduced to that news capsule existence.
With the vice presidential debate on tap for Thursday night, it’s time to celebrate Joe Biden, appreciate Joe Biden, and most of all, trust Joe Biden.
The Joe Biden life story has been told many times by people who have had the pleasure of spending a few hours with the man. It’s one worth repeating, though, and it is a life story worth celebrating by those who believe in the profound strength that builds when one overcomes life’s trials.
Joe Biden’s childhood was typical in many ways and atypical in many others. He grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where he lived with both his parents and grandparents. His father was not wealthy. In fact, a run of bad business luck brought financial ruin to the Biden doorstep, forcing Joe’s father to lean on other family for support.
It was there, they say, that Biden developed some of the qualities that shaped him into a six-term senator and vice president of the United States. In a 2008 article about Biden’s childhood, the AP’s Michael Rubinkam wrote:
In his 2007 memoir, “Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics,” Biden said he learned politics at his grandfather’s kitchen table, where the Finnegan clan — Irish, Catholic and staunchly Democratic — would “argue local politics, state politics, world events, Truman against MacArthur.”
Joe Biden was an adventurous, athletic kid. He loved football, baseball, sledding down Fiske Street, and carving his name into the walls of his childhood home. Joe Biden’s childhood wasn’t all rosy, though. He was often bullied in his youth because of his debilitating stutter. John Broder of the New York Times captured Biden’s response to the incessant neighborhood bullying:
He relished the one he shared with delegates at the Democratic National Convention about his mother instructing him to retaliate against some neighborhood boys who had roughed him up. He even acted out the punch he said he delivered to one of the boy’s noses. “I went ‘Bam,’ ” he said, aiming a punch at your correspondent’s face, “and they all ran away.”
Biden learned to beat his stuttering problem with a now-famous poetry routine, where he would repeat lines from Ralph Waldo Emerson. Biden went on to college, where he earned historically low marks at the University of Delaware. He spent much of his time on academic probation, but eventually made his way to law school at Syracuse. Later, he worked as a public defender – an experience that undoubtedly shaped much of Biden’s legislative future.
When Joe Biden’s father nicknamed his “champ,” he slapped on Biden a moniker that he continues to wear proudly today. Biden has been a champion of the working class and a champion of the poor. He has been a champion of many people who otherwise might not have a voice. Some of his legislative accomplishments include:
*Voted no to limiting class action lawsuits to empower consumers
*Voted no to making it harder for death row inmates to appeal
*Co-sponsored the hate crimes prevention act
*Established a domestic violence volunteer attorney network to assist victims
*Introduced a law to support second chances for offenders in hopes of lowering recidivism among first-time criminals
Biden also understood one of the many problems in the justice system when he was in the Senate. He once said:
The vast majority of gun crimes are almost all related to drugs. And what we do is we, instead of incarcerating our young blacks and other folks in the inner city who are arrested for a violent crime, instead of separating these juveniles, we put them in with adults. They go ahead and they learn the trade. They learn the trade and they come back out.
Joe Biden has been a champion for his family. After losing his wife and child in a car accident, Biden made the decision to take the Amtrak home to Delaware each night to care for his sons, who were also injured in the wreck. He continued doing that during the entirety of his Senate career, often sacrificing fundraising to be at his sons’ baseball games.
It is high time that we appreciate Joe Biden the man and Joe Biden the politician. That’s because Biden is one of the rare men who allow those things to overlap. His kind heart has guided him over a long legislative career. His down-home roots and friendly demeanor have helped the administration connect with working class and middle class voters in places like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Joe Biden connects with people because he is a person. He’s a real, genuine person.
When Biden engaged in a famous hug with a young man during a Florida campaign event, it got to the core of what the man is all about. The young man was Kobe Groce and he communicated his appreciation for what Biden and the President had done to help his family. Groce told Biden of his single mother’s struggles and of his brother’s ambitions. He told Biden of his own goals and his own determination to overcome challenges. Biden’s response was real and powerful. After a tear-soaked hug, he told Kobe to “keep the faith.” Those words relayed an understanding of what it’s like to struggle. More aptly, those words communicated a sense of unrelenting hope from a man who has overcome tragedy, personal struggles, and socioeconomic barriers to reach the near-summit of American politics.
Biden handled tremendous loss with dignity. He overcame childhood stuttering with tenacity. He worked through a brain aneurism with courage. He is a man chiseled into something greater than himself by the tools of determination and the sheer erosion that accompanies life.
This is the time to trust Joe Biden. For four years, he has had the President’s back. He’s been the faithful adviser, waiting in the wings with a laugh, a smile, and a few thoughtful words. Few people get to hear what’s said between Barack Obama and Joe Biden. But the President chose Biden for a reason. He chose Biden because he trusts that when he needs a man the most, this Vice President will come through.
Joe Biden has an opportunity to look the bully in the face on Thursday night. He has a chance to hit the bully in the nose and make them “run away.” Here’s to hoping he delivers a knockout performance, full of the things that make Joe Biden special. From unscripted normalcy to unforgiving honesty to a sharp understanding of the real problems faced by real people, it is time for Joe Biden to answer the bell. As for us, let’s keep the faith.
Get ’em, Champ.