Has Biden Gone From Snarling To Darling?

Sen. Joseph Biden — who will stand before the nation Wednesday evening as the Democrats' vice presidential nominee — can come across as long-winded, self-satisfied and sharp-elbowed.

But can a man who commutes home to Delaware by train every night, introduces the Violence Against Women Act and cries in front of his state's delegation at the Democratic convention in Denver really be all that bad?

In the months before November, by virtue of politics American-style, the country will get to know the Inner Joe Biden.

One of the biggest raps against Biden is that he talks too much, so much that he occasionally sticks his foot in his mouth. For example, he said during the primaries that Barack Obama is "articulate" and "clean." At another point, Biden expressed hesitancy about Obama's readiness to serve as president. The McCain campaign has made hay with that gaffe.

When Biden's name was announced, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio said in a statement: "In Joe Biden, Barack Obama has ... found a running mate who doesn't believe he's ready to be president."

'He Says What He Thinks'

Biden loyalist John Daniello of Wilmington, Del., sizes up the senator's loquaciousness another way. "We don't look at it that he talks too much," Daniello says. "We like it that he says what he thinks."

Daniello, 75, is chairman of the state Democratic Party and the state's delegation at the convention. He is also a superdelegate who has known Biden for nearly 40 years. "From Delaware's perspective," Daniello says in the hallway of the Pepsi Center, Biden's straightforward ways and caring manner "are why he has stayed a six-term senator."

In Denver Tuesday, Biden reminded his state delegation that he has lived most of his adult life in the public eye. He choked up when he thanked the group for giving him the opportunity to serve, and he said his nomination to the national ticket paled in comparison with the honor of representing Delaware.

"My private life has been lived in a public arena," he said, "in clear public view."

Biden was just 29 when he won his first senatorial victory in 1972. A few weeks after his election, his wife, Neilia, and their 18-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident as they drove home with a Christmas tree. The couple's young sons, Beau and Hunter, sustained serious injuries.

A New Senator Adjusts

The state of Delaware mourned the young Biden's loss, and it watched him adjust to life as a first-term senator and a single father.

Joan DelFattore, a professor of English and legal studies at the University of Delaware, tells this story: "An ultraconservative colleague of mine stopped himself in the middle of a tear about Biden's liberalism and said, 'But I have to admit, he took care of his kids' — a reference to the senator's coming home every night to parent his two young sons after the car accident."

DelFattore, who is not a Democratic delegate, says, "Of course some folks criticize Sen. Biden, some more bitterly than others. After more than 30 years in public life, that's a given." But, she adds, "No one I know doubts that his family values are deep and sincere."

Initially after the tragedy in 1972, Biden was reluctant to take office. Veterans of the Senate persuaded him to go to Washington, D.C., anyway. He took the oath of office in his son's hospital room.

Biden remarried in 1977. He and his wife, Jill, have a daughter, Ashley. Beau Biden, the senator's elder son, is the state's attorney general.

Biden faced his own mortality in 1988, when he had two brain aneurysms. He was out of the Senate for seven months.

While a member of the Judiciary Committee, Biden authored the Violence against Women Act of 2000, which is seen as a major weapon against domestic violence and gender-based crimes.

Inevitably, national campaigns work hard at humanizing their candidates. Sometimes it's a harder task than other times. Biden's journey has just begun.

"People don't doubt his fundamental decency," says DelFattore. "The idea seems to be that Delaware is just too small to allow anyone to get away with very much for very long."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.