4 Emotional Times Joe Biden Got Real, Because The Vice President Wears His Heart On His Sleeve
Vice President Joe Biden is a man who's lived enough tragedy for more than one lifetime. Earlier this year, his son Beau died after a lengthy bout with brain cancer — he was only 46 years old — and that's not the first time he's had to weather the loss of a family member. Back in 1973, following his election to the U.S. Senate, his wife, Neilia, and their 1-year-old daughter, Naomi, died in a car crash. Suffice to say, America's number two has experienced a lot of triumphs and tragedies, and sometimes he wears his feelings on his sleeve; here are four times Joe Biden got emotional.
There's a very big reason why Biden's emotional state — as he described it, his "emotional energy" — is in the news right now. For weeks, murmurs have been swirling about a 2016 Biden presidential run, a late-game entry into the Democratic field. But so soon after the death of his son, and facing a field boasting a potent front-runner in Hillary Clinton and a liberal darling in Bernie Sanders, Biden had been mum on whether he'd actually jump into a presidential campaign.
Until now, that is. Here are some prime examples of Biden opening up and getting real with people, because there are few politicians who know how to speak with as much emotional candor as him.
1. "I Just Don't Know"
This was the moment of raw honesty that made headlines Thursday, because it was the first time Biden actually addressed the presidential speculation quite so directly. He said the following during an appearance at Ahavath Achim Synagogue in Atlanta, according to USA Today.
I’ll be straightforward with you. The most relevant factor in my decision is whether I and my family have the emotional energy to run. Some people might think that is not appropriate. But unless I can go to my party and the American people and say that I am able to devote my whole heart and my whole soul to this endeavor, it would not be appropriate. ... Everybody talks about the other factors — the other people in the race, whether I can raise the money and whether I can put together an organization. That’s not the factor. The factor is, can I do it? Can my family undertake an arduous commitment that I would be proud to undertake under ordinary circumstances?
It's rare for such a high-profile figure to make it so clear that pursuing his grandest political ambition doesn't necessarily outweigh his exhaustion, grief, and the concerns of his family. Whatever he ends up deciding, he seems intent on being sure it's what he and his family wants.
2. "I'm Sorry, Senator"
Back in 1973, on an Election Day that ended with him as a Senator-elect from Delaware, Biden became overwhelmed with emotion when receiving his opponent's concession call. But contrary to what you might think, it wasn't all joyfulness — as BuzzFeed notes, his memoir Promises To Keep relates how he felt overwhelmed on the behalf of the man he defeated, then-Senator J. Caleb Boggs.
... when he said it and I knew I’d won, it felt like nothing like I thought it would. It was supposed to feel great. I was supposed to be elated. But when Senator Boggs started to talk, I could feel myself filling up, like I might cry. I could feel the back of my throat constrict. It was like my old stutter was back. I didn’t think I’d be able to talk. So Boggs spoke again: ‘You ran a good race, Joe.’
‘I’m sorry, Senator’ was all I could say. ‘I’m sorry.’
3. "An Open Wound"
On July 21, weeks following his son's death, Biden remarked on the grieving process at a community college-centric event in Colorado, as CNN detailed. The vice president's public remarks are usually never more straightforward, raw, or earnest than when he discusses grief — he credited the massive outpouring of support and condolences from the military for giving him a "sense of strength," in spite of the freshness of his pain.
I got off a plane today at the airbase and I met a whole bunch of military folks there waiting to see me. They all made reference to my son and his military service and expressed their condolences. And although it's still kind of an open wound, it gave me a sense of strength knowing they all meant it.
4. "You Just Knew, Didn't You?"
The defining non-political speech of Biden's career came in 2012, when he addressed the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), a nonprofit which provides support to the families of slain service members. The whole thing is a worthy use of 20 minutes if you've got the time to watch it in full, but there were some profoundly fraught, emotional moments when Biden related his own tales of tragedy, making an obvious, instant connection with the audience.
... I was down in Washington hiring my staff and I got a phone call saying that my family had been in an accident. And just like you guys know, by the tone of the phone call you just knew, didn’t you? You knew when they walked up the path. You knew when the call came. You knew. You just felt it in your bones something bad happened.
And I knew. I don’t know how I knew. But the call said my wife was dead, my daughter was dead and I wasn’t sure how my sons were going to make it. They were Christmas shopping and a tractor trailer broadsided them in one instant — killed two of them and, well — I have to tell you, I used to resent — I knew people meant well. They’d come up to me saying, Joe, I know how you feel.
I knew they meant well. I knew they were genuine. But you knew they didn’t have any damn idea how it felt, right? Isn’t that true? I mean, that black hole you feel in your chest like you’re being sucked back into it. Looking at your kids — and most of you have kids here — and knowing — it was the first time in my career, in my life, I realized someone could go out — and I probably shouldn’t say this with the press here — (laughter) — no, but it’s more important. You’re more important.
For the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide — not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they’d been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they’d never get there again, that it was never going to get — never going to be that way ever again. That’s how an awful lot of you feel.
Biden went on to heartbreakingly mention that no parent should experience outliving their child — this was three years before he'd again endure that same type of loss with Beau's death.