Will former Vice President Joe Biden run again for the highest elected office in the land in 2020?
That was the question on many people’s minds last week, when the longtime US senator from Delaware stopped by Pasadena briefly to launch this season’s Distinguished Speaker Series at Ambassador Auditorium.
Long story short: He didn’t say no.
In fact, Biden did not actually mention a potential presidential run at all, although much had been written about the possibility in the week leading up to his talk. Nonetheless, his remarks at the Oct. 25 event sounded much like someone with the skills needed to reunite the country during these divisive times.
“The definition of America is ‘possibilities,’” said the physically fit 74-year-old Pennsylvania native.
“It is time for us to lead the world again. If there’s any time we need to maintain our alliances and engage in diplomacy to convince the world to tighten the screws on situations like North Korea, it’s now,” Biden said.
SILENCE IS COMPLICITY
Biden’s speech covered a wide range of domestic and foreign policy topics, including the use of diplomacy to mollify North Korea, the effects of the fourth Industrial Revolution on the labor market, the benefits of free community college and the rise of what he called “phony populism.”
“How many of you think we’ve increased our standing, security and respect in the world [during the current administration]?” he rhetorically queried the audience.
“We are living through a battle for the soul of this nation,” Biden told the packed house in West Pasadena. “Some of our fundamental values are being tested. I got involved in public life because of civil rights. I never thought I’d see neo-Nazis chanting in the streets of America wielding torches,” he said of the race riots in Charlottesville, Virgina, in August.
“Our children are listening,” said Biden. “I respectfully suggest that silence in the face of this is complicity.”
But one of the biggest concerns of this former politician known for bringing the two parties together on major issues is both the breakdown of the US political system and the lack of bipartisan consensus in Washington. He also lamented the disruption of the post-World War II liberal world order and the Trump administration’s fraying of relationships with traditional allies.
“We now group the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’” instead of rebuilding this shared narrative of freedom and democracy that inspires nations around the world,” he continued. “Populism is about breaking the barriers put up intentionally to prevent the abuse of power by the majority. Charlatans have long peddled this phony populism to erode the invisible moral fabric of society to create space for their selfishness. We can’t let this happen.”
Still, he remains optimistic that the political system can be repaired.
“The two political parties need to stop looking at each other as enemies,” he said. “They — and we as citizens — need to talk to each other again and re-establish personal relationships, because that makes it hard to hate ‘the enemy.’”
Biden was born in 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania. At age 10, he moved with his family to Wilmington, Delaware. In 1969, he became a lawyer, and the following year a member of the New Castle County Council. In 1972, at age 30, he became a U.S. senator, serving 37 years until being sworn in as the 47th vice president of the United States under President Barack Obama. Many of his colleagues in Washington referred to him as “Middle Class Joe,” which was not, he said, meant as a compliment, although he sees it as one.
Biden ran for president in 1988 and 2008, and decided not to run in 2016 after the untimely death of his 46-year-old son Beau from a brain tumor. He has not, however, ruled out running for president in 2020.
“I haven’t decided to run,” he told Vanity Fair in a story posted one day before his appearance at the Ambassador. “But I’ve decided I’m not going to decide not to run. We’ll see what happens.”
Meanwhile, it certainly looks like he’s running. He established a political action committee (PAC) in June called American Possibilities. He has spoken at several Democratic Party fundraisers around the country, and he has been a vocal critic of the Trump administration, penning an op-ed for the Sept. 14 edition of The New York Times in which he argued that America needs to reclaim its democratic values. In The Atlantic in August he wrote about the fatal Charlottesville violence instigated by neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
At a University of Delaware forum with Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich recently, Biden said Trump “doesn’t understand how the government functions,” and criticized the president’s social media habits.
In a Medium article launching his PAC in June, Biden wrote: “Thinking big is stamped into the DNA of the American soul. That’s why the negativity, the pettiness, the small-mindedness of our politics today drives me crazy. It’s time for big dreams and American possibilities.”
Despite Biden coming just short of announcing his intention to run, The New York Times has reported that Biden’s advisers are divided over whether he should do so.
SERVICE AND SACRIFICE
During his time in the Senate, Biden chaired the Foreign Relations Committee and the Judiciary Committee, where he received criticism for his handling of the contentious US Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas. Anita Hill, a former Thomas employee, publicly accused the judge of sexual harassment and testified before Congress, but Thomas, a nominee of President George H. W. Bush, was still confirmed. Biden later championed the Violence Against Women Act and is now a leading voice in the struggle to change the culture of mistreating women.
The death of his son Beau in 2015 was not Biden’s first brush with tragedy. In 1972, shortly after his election to the Senate, Biden’s first wife and infant daughter were killed in a car crash. He said in Pasadena that he didn’t want to go to Washington after that, but a bipartisan group of senators convinced him to stay. He met his second and current wife, Jill, on a blind date in 1975. Biden’s new book, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose,” a reflection on serving in office while mourning Beau’s death, will be released by Flatiron Books on Nov. 14. He will travel to 19 US cities starting Nov. 13 to promote the book and host panel discussions with local leaders.
As vice president, Biden oversaw US policy in Iraq and the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus package during the Great Recession, among many other projects. As one of his final acts as president, Obama awarded Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom in January. Biden said the Obamas and his family have continued their close friendship after leaving office.
Biden is well known for his verbal gaffes and passionate, endearing “Bidenisms,” as his loose talk has been referred to. “If there were no gaffes, there’d be no Joe. He’s someone you can’t help but like,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
After leaving the White House earlier this year, Biden was named the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He and Jill also formed the Biden Foundation, which seeks to “protect and advance the rights and opportunities of all people through educational programming and public policy analysis,” according to the foundation’s website. The foundation focuses on advancing community colleges, ending violence against women, ensuring LGBTQ equality, protecting children, shaping foreign policy, strengthening the middle class and supporting military families.
“We are the only nation in the world organized around the notion that anything is possible,” Biden said in Pasadena. “We are an aspirational nation. It’s time for us to pick our heads up again. Stand up. Remember who in God’s name we are. We have a lot to lose but so much to gain if we start to pull together and treat each other with a little bit of decency in the political realm. Words matter and our children are listening.”
The Distinguished Speaker Series continues with scientist Bill Nye on Nov. 29; journalist Ted Koppel on Jan. 24; former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Feb. 21; travel guru Rick Steves on March 14; and basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on May 9. Learn more at speakersla.com.