Getting to know Joe Biden
On Nov. 3, a day barely four months away, American voters go to the polls to elect their president and vice president for the next four years, from 2021 to 2024. Many observers consider it one of the most crucial elections in US history as the people will decide, among several other issues, whether to continue with Donald Trump’s increasingly unilateral approach on foreign policy or return to a multilateral strategy in tackling the many issues that confront the world today. The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee who will be up against Trump, is a familiar figure with many Filipinos. Joe Biden was vice president under Barack Obama for eight years from 2009 to 2016. In 1972, at age 29, he was elected to the US Senate from the state of Delaware, one of the youngest ever. In fact he had to wait a few weeks before taking his oath since he was still underage at the time of election. He would serve in this position for 36 years until he assumed the vice presidency.
Several years ago, while recuperating from surgery at St. Luke’s Medical Center, I was visited by an old friend who was thoughtful enough to leave me with something to read while getting through the boredom. It was the story of Joe Biden in his own words with the title “Promises to Keep.” At that time I was not particularly interested in a US politician and so the book was set aside and forgotten. With the community quarantine in place especially for seniors, I noticed that the name Joe Biden started to pop up more frequently in US political news reports. I remembered my friend’s gift and decided that this was a good time to get to know the guy better. After all, he could be the next president of the United States.
Allow me to share some anecdotes from his book for a better appreciation of the man.
Joseph Biden Jr. (he is simply known as Joe Biden) was born of Irish-Catholic parents in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. Unlike the Irish Catholic Kennedys, the Bidens were working class and Joe would be the first Biden to go to college. As a young boy, he was nicknamed “Joe Impedimenta” because of a bad case of stuttering. For a while, he thought it was the end of the world for him. But the impedimenta turned out to be a godsend. “Carrying it strengthened me and made me a better person,” he said. He still has some trouble with his speech but “it reminds me that all of us carry some burden in life.”
There were constant lessons from his parents that have given him both strength and support. His mom was more vocal. When told that he was going to have an audience with the Queen of England, the first thing she said was, “Don’t you bow down to her.” When told that he was seeing the Pope, she warned him not to kiss his ring. “Remember, Joey, you’re a Biden. Nobody is better than you. You are not better than anybody else but nobody is any better than you,” was what she stressed.
From his dad, a quiet man, he learned “the first principle in life, the foundational principle — the art of living is simply getting up after you have been knocked down… the world does not owe you a living.”
This will be Biden’s third try at the presidency. In 1988, his campaign for the nomination got into trouble with charges of plagiarism. He had used some lines from a speech of Neil Kinnock, British Labour Party leader, without any attribution. During this period, he underwent surgery for an aneurysm just below the base of his brain. In 2008, he ran again but later withdrew in favor of Barack Obama. As a senator, he authored the Violence Against Women Act, making it a hate crime which meant a violation of their civil rights. At the moment, several women have come out publicly accusing him of inappropriate physical contact. He denies any ill intentions regarding these contacts. Biden has promised that his vice presidential running mate will be a woman. The current front-runner is Sen. Kamala Harris, daughter of a South Asian Indian and a Jamaican father.
History tells us that of 45 US presidents, 10 failed in their bids to win a second term. Of the 10, five served in the 20th century: William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and George H.W. Bush. If Trump loses in November, he would be the first casualty in the 21st century. Joe Biden, at age 78, would then have the distinction of being the oldest man elected to the presidency, a title now held by the incumbent Donald Trump.
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