Old-school Joe Biden hailed as a hero by students at the LBJ Presidential Library

 

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden takes a photo with LBJ School graduate students after speaking at the LBJ Presidential Library’s Auditorium on the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Good morning Austin:

Mark Updegrove didn’t ask Joe Biden last night whether he plans to run for president in 2020.

But that’s OK. Let’s just assume that he is open to the possibility. Very open.

From the Washington Times Sunday:

Joe Biden appears to have his eye on 2020. Or something. The former vice president founded a political action committee months called American Possibilities, actively soliciting public donations. Mr. Biden has a new book arriving next month, and will embark on a 19-city “American Promise Tour” in late November.  Is the 74-year-old striking a presidential posture? Could be. He’s also changed his tone, transitioning from “smilin’ Joe” to aggressive attack dog, his ire aimed directly at President Trump.

2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Yes, Biden will be 75 in November.

But that makes him a whole year younger than Bernie Sanders.

Like Sanders, the kids love him.

By the kids I mean the students at UT and the LBJ School who made up much of the audience last night for his appearance as the Tom Johnson Lecturer at the LBJ Presidential Library, giving Biden a hero’s welcome and seeming very much in his thrall though his conversation with Updegrove.

HIs appeal is different from that of Sanders.

Sanders is the cranky socialist iconoclast, all issues all the time, and the issue being income inequality.

Biden’s appeal, especially to Millennials, is less obvious. He is a throwback to a time of respect and comity and consensus in politics.

.NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

But on a day that President Donald Trump was casually insulting Puerto Ricans stricken by disaster – aka, another day on the job – Biden’s homespun philosophy and appeals to decency and American first principles, carried some extra punch.

Watching him hold court, at length, last night, a Biden presidential candidacy in 2020 seemed perfectly plausible.

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks with former LBJ Library Director Mark K. Updegrove at the LBJ Presidential Library’s Auditorium on the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972, not yet 30, the minimum age to serve in the Senate.

Before he took office, his wife, Neilia, and one-year daughter, Naomi ,were killed in a car accident, nd his two sons badly hurt.

He had to be coaxed by his Democratic colleagues to take his seat, and he recalled how Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield mentored him closely to see him through those difficult days and instruct him.

Biden:

I  came to Washington when a lot of people there were still the old segregationists. James O.Eastland. Oh my gosh.. One of the meanest, smartest guys I knew, (John) McClellan of Arkansas, John Stennis, who became a supporter and friend of mine. And as vicious as the fights were over civil rights, when the debate was over, we’d all come down and have lunch and dinner together. The system worked because we went after each other’s judgement but not after motive.

NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

He recalled early on coming upon Sen. Jesse Helms of North Carolina, who was elected the same year he was, excoriating Ted Kennedy and Bob Dole on the Senate floor for advancing a forerunner of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

And I thought `God,” and I sat down in front of Mansfield and I guess I looked angry .. and then I went after Jesse Helms and said he had no socially redeeming value … and Mansfield sat there and looked at me and then taught me the best lesson I ever learned.

He said, “Joe, what would you say if I told you that two-and-a-half years ago Dot and Jesse Helms were sitting in their living room in Raleigh, North Carolina, reading the Raleigh News and Observer and there was a photograph of a 14-year-old young man, braces from his chest down to his legs, steel braces, both legs, and steel crutches, and then he’s saying, “All i want for Christmas is someone to love me. Take me home.”

What if I tell you, “Dot and Jesse Helms adopted that young boy?” I said I would feel foolish. “Well he did, Joe.” and he said, ” Learn something here. It’s always appropriate to question somebody’s judgment. It’s never appropriate to question their motives because you don’t know their motives.”

2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

And that’s why I’m going to say something that is unnecessarily self-serving, that’s why every single time you saw a problem in the Senate or the House in the last eight years, and in  the 36 years I was in the Senate, I’m the guy who gets called up to try to settle it, because I have enormous respect for my Republican as well as my Democratic colleagues, and I’ve never questioned their judgment.

Today it’s gotten mean and visceral and it’s always, if you disagree with me, you’re in the pocket of big business or you’re in the pocket of this or you’re unethical. In this democracy we’ve separated political power wisely. Nothing can happen without consensus. It’s virtually impossible to reach consensus after you’ve attacked the integrity of another man or woman. You can’t get to go. 

That’s what’s changed in the last eight years. Think of the nature of the debate. “You’re a bad person, you’re an unethical person You’re not a Christian. You’re unAmerican.”

When Strom Thurmond died at 100, I got a call from the hospital from his wife, Nancy. She was at the nurses’ station … and she said Strom asked me to call you and ask you a favor. I said, “How is he?” She said, “He’s on God’s time.” I said, “What can I do Nancy? Anything.” She said, “Strom asked if you could do his eulogy.” 

I did Strom Thurmond’s eulogy and I didn’t lie at all. He was a product of his time and he changed with time. By the time he died he had a larger percentage of blacks on his staff than any senator in the United States Senate, including Ted Kennedy. He voted for reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act.

Folks, what’s different today is we don’t know each other. 

NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

“Because of my strong relationships to this day in the Senate, I don’t say who it is and I won’t because I don’t want to hurt them, but I meet regularly with the Republican Senate leadership now,” Biden said. “There’s not camaraderie today, and that’s why it’s easier and easier to question each other’s motives.”

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden meets privately with LBJ School graduate students after speaking at the LBJ Presidential Library’s Auditorium on the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

He talked about gerrymandering.

There are only boy 45 out of 435 House seats that are contestable. You could go out and commit an unnatural act in a town square if you are in an overwhelmingly Republican or Democratic district, and someone from the other party is not going to be beat you.

All that matters is the primaries, he said, which puts a premium on extremism.

.NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Biden was asked about his parents.

“My dad believed that you never complained and you never explained,” Biden said.

“I remember the first time I got knocked out in a football game,” Biden said. “The first thing I remember is my dad leading down and whispering, `Joey, if nothing’s broken, get up Joey.'”

“My mother believed, as long as you’re alive you have an obligation to strive,”  Biden said. “You’re not dead until you see the face of God.”

Biden said that biographies of him say he always wanted to be president.

“That’s not true,” he said. “I got involved because of Lyndon Johnson, believe it or not, because no one had done more for civil rights in America, beyond Dr.  King than Lyndon Johnson.”

“I got involved as a young kid in the Civil Rights Movement. I moved from Scranton, Pennsylvania – and it you listen to Barack he makes ms sound like a guy who crawled out of a coal mine with a lunchbox – I moved to Delaware when I was in the third grade.”

“I ended up as a public defender representing people who were accused of burning down the city, which they didn’t do.”

2017. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

He said he saw Hillary Clinton’s defeat coming.

I made 83 campaign events for Hillary. I think she would have made a fine president. I really mean that. Eighty-three events. I told my staff, my key political staff, and Barack, who disagreed with me, about five weeks out, that we were going to lose, because – my staff was worried, that what I am about to say would offend the press.

What’s he talking about?

He described his epiphany campaigning in Ohio last fall that for all Clinton’s good and well-formulated and appealing policy positions, no one knew anything about them. They got almost no coverage from a press distracted by Trump.

“I think we so vastly underestimated the Trump campaign and Mr. (Steve) Bannon,” Biden said. Trump had said and done all these things that seemed utterly discrediting, Biden said, but “it took the eye off the ball.”

 

Biden’s arrival was delayed.

“In my entire career, one of the greatest honors I’ve had was working with General McRaven and that’s not hyperbole,” Biden said, on his arrival. “This is a man of enormous, enormous capacity and judgment. I’ve met every major head of state in the last 43 years. I’ve never met anybody with the courage, the gumption and the values Admiral McRaven represents.”

NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Toward the end of his remarks, Biden told his generally young audience, that they were the best generation ever, the hope of the world, but, just as some of them were applauding themselves, Biden added the admonition that too few of them mere willing to put it on the line and run for office.

“There is no place to hide,” he said.

Addendum:

After this appeared this morning I heard from Tori Yu, a public affairs rep from the LBJ School, who sent some comments she had collected from students working on their master’s degrees in public affairs, explaining Biden’s draw.

“I don’t know that I can put it into words,” said Thomas Trinh (MPAff ‘18) upon meeting Biden. “He’s definitely rooted us, humbled us in remembering that we don’t become elite.”

“Believing what you do is possible and that it matters is central to achieving what you want in politics,” said Chris Willuhn (MPAff ‘17) on what he learned from the meet and greet with Biden.

“It’s past midnight, and I’m half doing homework and half reminiscing about being so close to Uncle Joe,” said Amara Uyanna (MGPS ’18). “I feel like I’m a much more important, capable and intelligent individual! So inspired! Thank you so much for making this happen.” 

 “Last night was an honor! Thank you, Joe Biden, for giving me life advice and reminding me why I came to policy school,” said Maggie Hennessy (MPAff ’18).

 

 

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