On that day when he stood for hours at the foot of the altar inside St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wilmington greeting each of the hundreds who had come to pay tribute to his son, Beau Biden, the vice president of the United States had to wonder if the pain and heartache would ever stop. Nearly six years later Joe Biden, like so many others, deals daily with the forever fresh memory of loss simply by going to work, doing his job.
“My God, the suffering that guy has endured,” his friend, former Senator Bob Kerrey was saying yesterday. “He has suffered immensely and that’s given him a rare ability to truly understand the lives of so many he’s now going to lead.
“In a very real way he’s maybe our most American president since Harry Truman. He is uniquely American. He’s not a celebrity. He’s not some Ivy League hot-shot. He’s Joe,” Kerrey continued. “He’s Joe Biden. He used to finish up a day’s business in the Senate by grabbing his lunch bucket, well not a lunch bucket but he’d grab his briefcase, walk down to Union Station, get on the train and go home. Nearly every day. That’s a huge part of who he is. A working guy headed home at the end of the day.”
Tomorrow, Joe Biden will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. He will follow four years of damage, lies, cruelty, ignorance and incompetence that resulted in our inability to cope with a global virus that has killed more than 400,000 Americans, crushed our economy, closed schools, stripped hope from millions, encouraged tyranny and treason, created deeper chasms of intolerance and opened fresh wounds of racism, all of it bullied forward daily by a man constantly running from accountability: Donald Trump.
“We need a president who knows mercy. We need a president who knows how to listen. We need a president with soul and grace—and that’s what and who Joe is,” Kerrey pointed out.
Most people are now fully aware of the broad outlines of Joe Biden’s life. He does not have to tell us what he’s lost. His job now is to make sure we do not lose our country.
He is the product of a most profoundly American background: grew up never rich, never poor, but never without. Witnessed the worry of a parent who lost a job and had to move the family. A public school guy, a state university guy.
Elected to the Senate when he was 29. Endured too many moments when each hour of the day seemed as if his life was a journey along the Stations of the Cross. Went home every day, the one place he sought for peace of the soul, the mind, the heart.
He probably never intended to commute everyday but once that element of horrendous fate intervened in December 1972, killing his wife and infant daughter, he pivoted and went home nightly because he had to go home. That is a dynamic everyone can relate to—the necessary need to adjust to a family-altering event: the arrival of a lay-off, a dismissal, a death. It is called living an American life.
Joe Biden arrives now to tell America the truth. He did not run and will not serve to make a profit off the presidency. He’s not thinking about a book deal, a library, or a Twitter account. No family member is mulling a run for office or a place on the stage.
He has carried his cross with dignity and purpose. He and his wife Jill have raised their family in circumstances similar to so many others: they have had two boys serve in the military. The older of the two was claimed by cancer. The younger has struggled with substance abuse. Life’s inexplicable lottery!
The 46th president of the United States is older now and is fully aware of his age, the years behind and, most of all, the critical needs of the immediate days and months ahead. His face and his voice bear the pain that’s as much a part of him as the warm smile that comes so easily.
“We’re lucky it’s Joe who we elected. Especially after what happened,” Kerrey said. “You know, I looked at those faces rushing into the Capitol and I thought, ‘I know them. I went to Vietnam with them.’ They’re our neighbors. They are around us and within us.
“Now they’re in trouble while the prick who got them there walks away. That’s not right. Trump has to be held accountable here.
America, Kerrey concluded, “needs a president who will listen. Joe is that president. He’s able to do that because of who he is and how he’s lived his life. And it’s a pretty good thesis to advance that he is the most uniquely American president we have had in a long time. God bless him.”
Joe Biden, our next American president, has spent a long time thinking about and preparing for the oath he’s about to take and the job he’s about to do. He’s been ready for this moment for a long, long time.