What has Joe Biden accomplished in 47 years? Quite a lot, actually.
In 1993, he co-sponsored The Violence Against Women’s Act, his proudest legislative achievement. Seventeen years later, the rate of intimate-partner violence had plummeted by 64 percent. In 2009, he pushed a skeptical Barack Obama to bail out the auto industry, saving 1.5 million jobs in the process. In 2012, he became the first vice president — sitting or otherwise — to endorse what we then called same-sex marriage but what we now, more accurately, call marriage equality.
And lest we forget, it was Biden, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who shepherded one of Bill Clinton’s appointees onto the Supreme Court. She was three things that wouldn’t do well in today’s political acrimony: She was shy, she was quiet, she was an incrementalist. Several prominent feminist organizations even opposed her at the time. But her sotto voce intonations masked the booming intelligence of a legal giant.
Her name was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
That’s the kind of history you get to make when you are elected to the United States Senate at the tender age of 29. Ever since, Biden has been a constant in America’s political life. By staking his claim to the center-left (and always staying on good relations with those on either side of the aisle), Biden secured passage of important legislation that many of us took for granted until they were gone — extending the Voting Rights Act with Republican Senator Bob Dole chief among them. That was one reason Barack Obama would dispatch Biden to the Senate every time he found himself at an impasse with Mitch McConnell. Additionally, Obama put Biden in charge of dispensing the $787 billion in stimulus aid that Congress had appropriated to relieve the pains of the Great Recession. In doing so, Biden played an instrumental part in setting the country on a path out of the low point of 2008 and on to the economic heights America experienced before the pandemic.
It was during all this — his career in the Senate and his stint as vice president — that Biden evolved from the jocular, somewhat immature fellow of the 1970s into the man who increasingly seems like America’s grandpa.
It’s in the way he unironically says the word “malarkey.”
It was in his campaign announcement video — a meditation on what the idea of America means in the context of Charlottesville — in which Biden doesn’t seem distraught so much as disappointed.
And it was in a heartfelt moment of “The View” in which Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain, burst into tears when describing her father’s cancer diagnosis. Biden, who was the guest for that day, quickly moved to her side. He took her by the hand, gave her a little bit of hope and regaled her with stories of how he and her father would mix it up on the Senate floor. Two minutes later, Meghan McCain — her eyes still wet, her face still red — was laughing despite herself.
Indeed, if there is one skill that Biden has, it is the ability to convey genuine empathy. It is a skill he undoubtedly developed both because of his innate avuncularity and his unimaginable personal tragedy.
Only one month after Biden upended political expectations by becoming the junior Senator from Delaware (the sixth youngest in Senate history), life upended his expectations: both his wife, Neilia, and his daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident. Still, Biden pressed on, taking his oath of office from his son, Beau Biden’s, hospital bed. When asked by a reporter whether there was a potential conflict between his serving in the Senate and his being a father, Biden said: “If, in six months or so, there’s a conflict between my being a good father and being a good senator, which I hope will not occur, we can always get another senator, but they can’t get another father.”
Forty years later, Beau Biden would die from glioblastoma, the same aggressive cancer that would target, and ultimately take down, John McCain. Mitch McConnell was the only Senate Republican to attend Beau Biden’s funeral, a sign of the respect he felt Biden and his family were owed.
The case for Biden, therefore, is strong. It relies not on the manner in which the current occupant of the White House has comported himself, but on the diagnosis of what ails America today. It isn’t this or that policy prescription. It is what has broken America’s back: unimaginable loss, poisonous political division and a general lack of empathy for those who do not share our values. Nothing will be fixed until those three ailments are resolved.
Given that, there is little choice but to vote for Joe Biden in this election. Inescapably, he is the man for this political moment.
Joshua Howell is a computer science PhD. student and the assistant opinion editor of The Battalion.