Biden has best background to run for president

The lecture hall at the Law School of William and Mary was packed in anticipation of an address by Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, at that time the powerful chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was more than two decades ago, but the scene wouldn’t be any different today.

Biden had the reputation of being one of the barons of the Senate, a politician with his own powerbase. This enabled him to speak his mind and even challenge a sitting president. Biden’s lecture at William and Mary, as well as his responses to questions from the audience and my brief interview with him, found him to be a pragmatist and a seasoned lawmaker who practiced results-oriented statecraft.

Lately, I have poured over Biden’s official biography, the records of his speeches, accomplishments and missteps. What provided the most insightful perspective was an interview with William Kissel, a practicing attorney in Lake Placid, N.Y., who was Biden’s classmate at Syracuse University Law School in the 1960s.

“Until now, Joe always returned my phone calls personally. I wonder whether from now on it would be a staff member who returns my calls,” said Kissel with a broad smile.

Kissel recalled an episode from the early 1970s during Biden’s first term in the Senate. Kissel called to see if he could stop by and Biden asked him to visit at a certain time.

“As I walked up the steps of the Capitol, he was standing there to great me. I was struck then, as I am now, by how much that revealed of his personal care of others, no matter how busy he is.”

Kissel remembers Biden as an energetic, outgoing and engaging young man who had a quick wit and easy smile. “Even back in law school it was obvious that Joe was interested in the larger political and leadership opportunities that a law degree could offer.”

Reflecting on the qualities that made Biden successful, Kissel said, “Joe has always been very dedicated to public service and to helping people. He also looks for opportunities to lead and make things better, whether in his home state of Delaware or on a wide range of international issues as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.”

All this matters now that Biden has thrown his hat into the ring of the 2020 presidential campaign. His message is based on core Democratic populist values and topics such as health care, jobs, the environment and energy.

Kissel expected that as vice president, Biden would play a leading role in formulating and implementing foreign policy, as well as coordinating the Obama administration’s programs in Congress.

This assessment corresponds closely with what Obama said in a CBS-TV interview about why he chose Biden.

“Obviously, the most important question is, is this person prepared to be president? Second-most-important question, from my perspective, is: Can this person help me govern? Are they going to be an effective partner in creating the kind of economic opportunity here at home and guiding us through some dangerous waters internationally? And the third criteria, for me, I think, was independence. I want somebody who is going to be able to challenge my thinking and not simply be a yes-person when it comes to policy making.”

Biden’s record of serving for more than three decades as a Senator, his chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary and Foreign Relations committees, and his two unsuccessful runs for the presidency, are not without blemish. He was nailed for borrowing passages from the writings of British politician Neil Kinnock and Robert F. Kennedy without attribution. But over time, Biden acquired a reputation as a statesman.

Considering Kissel’s take on Biden, his political career and record as senator and vice president, he is indeed the one who seems to be the best prepared to be president among the Democratic contenders.

Shatz is a Williamsburg resident. He is the author of “Reports from a Distant Place,” the compilation of his selected columns. The book is available at the Bruton Parish Shop, and Amazon.com.

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette
91°