Updated June 1, 2015: The Vice President, who has suffered a lot of loss in his life, has more character and depth beneath his outward image of buffoonery than most people know. With news that his son Beau has died of brain cancer, I’m remembering the post below, originally written in 2013. I also recommend this column from Ezra Klein on Biden’s grief perspective.
I’ll surely get a boatload of criticism for what I’m about to do: defend Vice President Joseph Biden.
As you know, the man who’s a heartbeat away from the presidency tends to run his mouth a lot and get into trouble. During the signing ceremony for Obamacare in 2010, the mics were on as he told President Obama that “This is a big fucking deal.” During the 2012 presidential campaign, Biden told a Virginia audience that “we won North Carolina in 2008 and we can win it again.” That was the same event where he told everyone that the Republicans “want to put you back in chains.”
The vice president also has a habit of violating the personal space of those he’s talking to. Yesterday, as he swore in new senators, he embraced the wife of Maine Sen. Angus King a bit long for the comfort of some. He also told the husband of North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp to “spread your legs, you’re going to be frisked.” Biden said this after the photographer asked them to drop their hands for the photo. “You say that to somebody in North Dakota they think it’s a frisk,” Biden joked. “They think you’re in trouble, right?” (The Atlantic Wire has more on these incidents.)
People like to call him Uncle Joe, and not in a good way. One of my friends compared him to the crazy, creepy uncle everyone tries to stay away from during family gatherings. If you’re a Democrat, he’s just a lovable old-timer who has no verbal filter. If you’re a Republican, he’s an idiot and borderline sexual predator.
But I also think people make a bigger deal out of Biden’s antics than what’s deserved. A lot of politicians get in close during hugs and handshakes, especially the older folks. He’s also not the first politician to forget which town he’s in during a speech. When you travel all the time, that’s going to happen.
But here’s the main reason I’m going to defend the man: He’s been through a lot in his life and has worked his ass off despite it all. Whether you agree with his politics or not, take a look at his history, and you’ll have to admit he’s done some inspirational things in his life:
- In 1972, a few weeks after he was first elected to the Senate, Biden’s wife and one-year-old daughter were killed in a car wreck while Christmas shopping. Biden’s two sons, Beau and Hunter, were critically injured in the accident but made full recoveries.
- To keep close to his kids, he commuted from Delaware to DC every day by train — 90 minutes each way. He did that his entire 35 years as a senator.
- In 1988, the same year he first ran for president, Biden suffered a series of aneurysms and at one point was given last rites. He recovered and continued to work tirelessly as a senator in the years that followed.
- As senator he led the fight to pass the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. That law had several measures and provided billions of dollars to help women suffering from domestic violence and other gender-based crimes.
- He was also among the first to call for action when a genocide was unfolding in the Balkans. Specifically, he fought to get Bosnian Muslims weapons and training to defend themselves against the mass slaughter taking place. Those policies eventually helped end the Bosnian war.
Having been through plenty of adversity myself, I have a soft spot for people who overcome devastating personal setbacks to make a positive mark on the world.
Call him Crazy Uncle Joe if it makes you feel better. In my opinion, his good points far outweigh his lack of filter.