At a moment in history where we are searching not just for great leaders but great humans, I offer as a shining example former Vice-President Joe Biden.
I read his new memoir this weekend, “Promise Me, Dad,” and it is hard to come away from this poignant book with anything but admiration and respect for Biden — the politician, the father, the family man. The great American.
Biden has been on the national stage for four decades and like all humans, he has had his gaffes and mistakes — there was the plagiarism of a British leaders speech and his tone deafness at the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings in the early 1990s.
But his few missteps are overshadowed by his stellar public service career — his bold support for gay marriage, before his boss, Barack Obama, signed on, was a watershed moment in our civil rights history.
Biden is a Democrat who has a worked both sides of the aisle — his early career in the Senate came during an era when Democrats and Republicans occasionally united to ratify legislation that truly helped America’s middle class.
Biden is as blue-collar a guy as you’ll meet in Washington. His middle class, Scranton, Pennsylvania roots him the life experience to really empathize with the hurting workers of our country. He is well know as “good old Joe Biden,” a regular guy who everybody would feel comfortable grabbing a beer with.
In the book, Biden recounts the scene when candidate Barack Obama told his running mate pick that he passed the vice-presidential vetting process.
“That was the easiest vetting I ever saw,” said Obama incredulously. “You don’t own anything.”
Biden readily admits that he’s a demographic anomaly in today’s American politics — he owns a modest home in Delaware but has no stocks or bonds. He and his former school teacher wife will rely on their pensions in retirement — like millions of Americans.
But we should all hope that Biden doesn’t retire for at least seven more years — he is the Democratic Party’s best hope to reclaim the White House in 2020.
I fear that Biden will then experience what the last two Democratic Presidents did: Cleaning up the mess created by their Republican predecessors. In 2008, Obama-Biden saved the country — and the global financial system — from going off a cliff. The Bush-Cheney regime couldn’t have messed things up more — two expensive and unwinnable wars (Iraq and Afghanistan) as well as a cratering Wall Street. The de-regulation of our financial system coupled with regressive tax cuts allowed the financial sector to take risks that nearly destroyed the global financial system.
Biden is a diplomatic man who can help bridge our divide nationally and with our adversaries around the world. He’s tough, experienced, and supremely empathic — qualities we sorely need from our President.
Biden has weathered a lot of heartbreak in his life and his perseverance and stoicism is truly heroic. Forty years ago, as a rookie legislator in Washington, he received news on the floor of Congress that his young wife and daughter were killed in a car crash right before Christmas. His two young sons, Beau and Hunter, survived but the newly widowed father had to nurse them back to health alone.
He eventually recovered from this indescribable heartbreak and started a new family. His sons went on to impressive careers in both the military and public service — in fact, Beau, served as attorney general of Delaware and was on his way to becoming governor back in 2014.
But then tragedy struck Biden again: Beau was diagnosed with a lethal brain cancer and his father had to once again put family before country. Despite his dying son’s plea for his dad to run for president, Biden decided that he needed to focus on his extended family — including his grandchildren in this sorrowful period after his beloved son’s death.
It is painful to contemplate what might have happened if Beau Biden hadn’t become ill. We probably would have a President Joe Biden in the White House now and the whole picture of America would be more optimistic.
But in politics, as in life, there is always tomorrow and the next campaign.
Here’s hoping that Joe Biden this time can heed his late son’s call to duty.
Run, Joe, run.
Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at tallo
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