The Joe Biden I Know

by Ken Feltman

Nobody I know who knows Joe Biden doesn’t like him. Some may not like his politics. Others may think he lacks intellectual capacity. More than a few may laugh at his stumbling and bumbling. But they like him as a person. They trust him. They believe that they can work with him – that they can work things out with him. What you see is what you get with Joe Biden.

Whenever I have been with Biden, in groups or alone, he has shown his sense of humor, his ready wit. A good listener, he wants to hear ideas. His questions go beyond the subject to gentle inquiries about the people he is talking with and their lives and experiences. Clearly, he tries to understand the ideas people have in the context of their lives and experiences – and their hopes, dreams and failures.

More quickly than most people would think of doing, he asks questions about family, background – even religion. He does it after offering information about himself. On an AMTRAK train from Washington to New York, he asked where I went to college. When I answered “Northwestern,” the conversation turned to Chicago’s Irish politicians and his Irish heritage, then to my Welsh heritage. “As I recall,” he said with a mischievous smile, “the Irish Sea surrounds Wales. Do the Welsh have a sea?” I responded, “Yes, on Welsh maps.” He laughed and nodded his head, then laughed again – and again.

He is comfortable with people. It is himself that Biden is not comfortable with. The tragic losses of family members – most recently the death of his son Beau just over three months ago – stick with him. On a train to Wilmington a few years ago, I realized that Joe Biden had put aside his own political ambitions and was living his life through Beau’s bright prospects. Beau had the gift. He was ready-made for a career in elective office. The sky was the limit and Joe Biden knew it. He was imagining his son’s future, tasting it, living it. That future was to Joe Biden like an extension of his own life.

Then, the tragedy: A life ended too soon, before it could fulfill its potential.

Joe Biden had left his political ambitions behind and was focused on Beau. Before he can commit to running for president, he must see the campaign as the fulfillment of Beau’s bright future, not his own. Joe Biden will have to live his life through his son’s unrealized life. To run, he must take up his son’s ambitions. Clearly, that is different from his own ambitions for his son.

It will require reliance on his strong Roman Catholic faith. It will require time. He may worry that he will be “stealing” Beau’s life, taking Beau’s potential for himself. Whatever he decides, the process of getting to the decision will be difficult. He is a complex man who seems to be so simple to figure out.

And that is precisely why people are drawn to Joe Biden: He will include anyone and everyone he can in his, and Beau’s, decision.

About Radnor Reports

Ken Feltman is past-president of the International Association of Political Consultants and the American League of Lobbyists. He is retired chairman of Radnor Inc., an international political consulting and government relations firm in Washington, D.C. Known as a coalition builder, he has participated in election campaigns and legislative efforts in the United States and several other countries.
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