Vice President Joe Biden’s gaffes have been not infrequently noted. In fact, one occurred just last week, when he said that the “middle class” has been nothing less than “buried” during the Obama administration.
“Which Joe Biden will show up for tonight’s debate?” the Daily Beast quips, the “cloying, cheesy” uncle who you try so hard to avoid sitting next to at Thanksgiving especially when, a highball in one hand, he’s yukking it up with your dad who’s sending clear “get me away from these in-law” signals to your mom? The man who, in 2008, told the New York Observer of then-Senator Barack Obama, “I mean you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy: I mean, that’s storybook, man”?
But this post is not about best-of-Biden-blunders. This post is about why, even if he did say that “jobs” was a three-letter word, even if he did once introduce Obama to a rally as “Barack America,” Biden is actually not that embarrassing uncle.
1. He used to have a stutter
Yes, Biden is known for putting his foot in his mouth on a regular basis. But the veteran politician with his old-style oratory actually had a severe stutter as a child for which he was mocked by his classmates (keep in mind, this was in the 1940s when nobody cared who bullied who). He recited poetry in front of a mirror to overcome his study and, in law school, helped another stutterer improve his speech.
2. He stands up for women
Biden has worked to end violence against women, indeed saying that “the single, most important legislative accomplishment in my 32-year-old career in the Senate is passing the Violence Against Women Act” in 1994. The VAWA was renewed in 2000 and expanded in 2005, to include new provisions to help ”treat children who witness violence, to increase housing opportunities and to create dedicated resources for rape crisis centers.”
Biden also supports abortion rights.
3. He loves public transit
For years, so his young children could live at their family home in Delaware and so he could see them every day, Biden rode Amtrak from Washington to Wilmington, a trip of some 90 minutes. No surprise that he’s a staunch supporter of public transportation.
4. He just wants us all to get along
Aware of the “vicious rift” dividing the U.S. in 2004 and seeking to close the partisanship gap, Biden enjoined Republican Senator John McCain to run for vice president with then-Democratic hopeful Senator John Kerry. While saying on “Meet the Press” that he was sure McCain would not do so, Biden — wanting to mend fences instead of erect more — explained that “I think it is a reflection of the desire of this country and the desire of people in both parties to want to see this God-awful, vicious rift that exists in the nation healed, and John and John could go a long way to heal in that rift.”
5. He is generally just an awesome person who has faced a lot of hardships
Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, to a working-class family (his father worked in car dealerships), Biden, who has spent more than half his life in the Senate, remains in touch with his blue-collar roots. He is a Washington insider but he’s more than earned his stripes. Richard Nixon was in office when Biden entered the Senate. He’s chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee and led the opposition against the Supreme Court nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. After voting for the Iraq War, he became a fierce critic of President George Bush’s policies and urged Obama against a big troop “surge” in Afghanistan.
Biden has lived through deep personal tragedy. Elected at the age of 29 to the Senate in 1972, he lost his first wife and young daughter in a car accident a few weeks afterwards. Both of his young sons were also injured and he considered resigning from his seat to care for them but was persuaded not to. Biden was a single father for five years and has said that he is “not devoid of an understanding of the problems ordinary people face.”
Yes, Biden’s long career in public life has been full of highs and lows and lows and highs. He’s done a lot, he’s seen a lot and he has said some really dumb things; that’s what happens when you’re an ordinary Joe. He’s debating tonight with a vice-presidential hopeful who’s younger than some of his own children. I wouldn’t be surprised if Biden said something to make us all wince, just like that old geezer uncle to whom you’d rather not have to say more than hi.
But also like that seasoned uncle, Biden’s not afraid to say what is, as he did during the 2008 campaign of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. “There’s only three things [Rudy] mentions in a sentence. A noun, a verb, and 9/11,” said Biden of Giuliani’s seeming to build his campaign around the attacks of September 11. He messes up.
As his career shows, you can be down. But you most certainly are not out.
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