The Hope of Joe Biden

Former VP Joe Biden Releases New Book About His Late Son
Credit: Flatiron Books

The Hope of Joe Biden

Miriam R. Kramer

This year’s poisonous political machinations as federal and state governments apply erratic approaches to managing the COVID-19 public health crisis have burdened and saddened us. We have been offered so many reasons to become jaded, furious, and fearful. Before this presidential election I recommend that you step back and take some comfort by turning to former Vice President Joe Biden’s heartfelt and uplifting bestseller Promise Me Dad, a 2017 memoir and ode to public service, family, and in particular his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden. Beau died in 2015 after a long battle against aggressive Stage IV glioblastoma as President Barack Obama and Vice President Biden worked hard to accomplish the administration’s long-term policy objectives before the 2016 election. 

When picking a president from the two major candidates, it pays to read about their character. How did a seasoned statesman like Joe Biden, already well-versed in personal tragedy, handle matters of state and leadership under the glare of a national spotlight while watching a much-beloved, politically promising son fade before his eyes? 

We are bombarded with images and speeches and tweets from the current president, who sucks the oxygen out of the media landscape with his unstable rants and attention-craving cruelty. It is time to turn away from toxic charisma and towards steadiness, kindness, and hard-earned wisdom. We need a more stable, united country in which we have a clearer path towards caring about and relying on one another.  

Vice President Biden’s memoir looks at and beyond personal pain while presenting the values he has learned as a lifetime public servant, one who has aimed to become President since he was a young man. As a newly elected senator, he suffered a crushing blow when his first wife, Neilia, and baby daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car crash. His two young sons, Beau and Hunter, were in the hospital from their injuries and he was sworn in as Senator at their bedside. 

As a single dad, he decided to spend his time shuttling back and forth between Delaware and Washington, DC, a two-hour commute each way, to spend as much time with them as he could. Throughout this book, his emphasis on family love is profound. He speaks of how he came to know Jill Biden, how she became the boys’ mother, and how Neilia and Naomi were never forgotten even when Ashley, his daughter with Jill, arrived. In his discussions of traditional family Thanksgiving vacations to Nantucket and other family events, it is evident how closely bound the Bidens are, no matter how extended, and how much they love and support one another. Joe and Jill Biden have instilled the value that every family member should always be there for one another. 

Biden talks candidly about how he came to accept the Vice Presidency against his initial inclinations, since he thought the role would have little impact or responsibility in comparison to his position as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His advisors, and in particular his family, talked him into it. So did President Barack Obama, who valued his experience and wisdom from performing years of public service. Wisely, Obama asked him to take major roles and responsibility in multiple areas, and acceded to Biden’s requests to be in on all major decisions and play a role in diverse realms of domestic and foreign policy. 

Despite having different styles and personalities, their resulting close friendship and complementary partnership shows how a strong, united administration can operate. This aspect of the book shines a light on the way Biden wishes to repeat this pattern of working closely with the eminently qualified Senator Kamala Harris, the first Black and Indian female candidate for the Vice Presidency.

Promise Me, Dad is not a very long book, and it is simply written. That being said, it becomes very intense in its discussion of familial love, public service, and leadership. I found it best to read chapters and then stop and absorb Biden’s insights. Biden cuts back and forth between the time he and his family spent helping his magnetic, up-and-coming son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, battle an aggressive glioblastoma, and the multiple important policy issues he had to address simultaneously in his professional life while helping President Obama steer the ship of state and working across the aisle with opposition members of Congress. 

This memoir shows Biden’s serious attitude towards building effective foreign relations with Russia, the Americas, and Europe, for example, along with leaders in the rest of the world. He also discusses issues as neighborhood policing and his support of Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights. Then he flips back to focusing on his son Beau and his close-knit family’s grueling ordeal watching the stoic, resilient Beau undergoing surgeries and experimental drug therapies with the help of medical teams in Houston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. 

In his book, Biden gives credit to all the people he loves in his family, his good friends, the Secret Service he has grown to know so well and President Obama for his endless support. He also talks about his sons: Hunter’s endless support for Beau, and Beau’s lost potential for becoming a national leader, mentioning that presidential historian Jon Meacham, among many others, thought Beau had the charisma and character to become president himself. Joe idolized his son, putting him on a pedestal.

When Beau died, Biden kept as busy as possible to allay his anguish, and relied on his large network of good friends in politics and elsewhere, along with his family. If anything, his book shows that his pain allows him to empathize with so many people who stoically go through difficult circumstances every day, whether they be a long-term illness, an eviction, a job loss or mortgage foreclosure, or the other difficult struggles of human existence. The empathy he expresses for the public he serves is deep and sincere.

Despite his great pain, Biden also responded to his son’s request: “Promise me, Dad, that you’ll be okay.” He writes of his son’s death as a way to renew his dedication to the very idea of public service after his many years in it. It helped him focus on his own need to live up to Beau’s passion for helping those who desperately needed assistance. In the process, he discusses his own role in reassuring a distressed and fractured nation. Biden emphasizes his role as a long-time champion for the middle class, which he saw waning as tax cuts for multimillionaires and billionaires increased exponentially since Reagan had taken office.  

As he notes afterwards, “I have come to believe that the first duty of a public servant is to help bring people together, especially in crisis, especially across difficult divides, to show respect for everybody at the table, and to help find a safe way forward. After forty-five years in office, that basic conviction still gives me purpose.” He ended up deciding not to run in 2016 after careful consideration, taking time to be with his family and focus on other initiatives after the White House.

Twelve years ago I wrote a column in which I reviewed books by and about each of the presidential and vice presidential candidates. Joe Biden’s book published in 2007, Promises to Keep, is an excellent and clearly written review of his early life, career, and family. I would recommend it too if you want to find out more or know enough to make phone calls to voters to convince them that he is up to the incredibly difficult task of becoming President of the United States.

In 2015 and 2016 I went to see Donald Trump and then–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak. I also went to see Joe Biden when he came into the area to stump for Hillary. Donald Trump kept his crowd waiting. At that time I did not know what to expect, although I greatly disliked his racist birtherism and knew that I would never vote for him. He was surprisingly boring, verbally bouncing all over the place like a toddler while complaining about “the failing New York Times,” a familiar refrain. He also told the crowd that there were thousands of people outside who couldn’t get in. I left early and walked outside to see six souvenir vendors. Whining and lying were on full display. 

In contrast, Hillary’s event was well-planned and coherent. She looked calm, controlled, and self-possessed in one of her apricot pantsuits, but more importantly was articulate and impressive in displaying her great-on-paper, and great-in-real-life, qualifications. The venue was full but not packed. I don’t remember what she said, but I enjoyed the event.

When I attended Joe Biden’s speech, where the venue was only half full, I was surprised to find that the so-called “gaffe master” gave by far the best speech of all. He supported Hillary Clinton despite the underlying tensions they had when deciding whether to run for the nomination against each other. He declared that we might lose the international relationships we had if Trump were elected. As the main point person in strengthening our support for Ukraine as Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea, he also warned of the dangers of Russian interference in our election.

At that time, out of nowhere, I was struck by his warmth and passion. I knew about him and had thought him to be a good choice for Vice President, yet I did not know who he was as a person. At that time, and ever since, I have hungered for sincerity in our politicians. I am sick of cynicism, and he struck a chord in me. My BS detector is strong, and authenticity goes a very long way with me. I know it does with many others, particularly after the last three and a half years. I was so happy to feel on a gut level that he meant what he said.

Promise Me, Dad accords with all I saw and heard that day. Joe Biden comes across as a decent, loving man with his own extensive width and breadth of public service in all policy areas. He is not a flashy marquee candidate, and he does not radiate big charisma over the cameras. He is by far the best man for the job, and he has made an excellent choice in picking Senator Kamala Harris as his candidate for Vice President, a woman who can correct and help fulfill his vision to serve all the people, no matter what color or creed, while establishing a place of her own in the sun.

So I take the liberty, for the first time ever, to endorse the former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden for President. My views do not reflect those of the Old Town Crier. 

If you are voting for him but know someone who does not often vote, such as a disengaged relative in her twenties or a disgruntled, disenfranchised friend, I hope this column will spur you on to give them a call, or talk to them about voting, even if you normally never talk about politics. I hope it spurs you on to distribute literature or volunteer to make phone calls or texts to support his and Kamala Harris’s candidacy. I also hope it spurs you on to have hope for our uncertain future. As Biden said to help support President Obama during his presidency’s worst moments, “The country can never be more hopeful than its president. Don’t make me ‘Hope.’ You gotta go out there and be ‘Hope.’” I believe that Joe Biden can make America hope again.

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