Over the past week we have been reminded, quite sharply, that there is a caricature of Vice President Biden and there is an actual human being. A long-time Senator and now Vice President, Biden has been greatly blessed. But he has also suffered enormously. In 1972, days after being elected to the Senate his wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident. Now, he has lost his son Beau, who died of brain cancer at age 46. (We’ll leave aside the far, far smaller disappointment of not reaching the White House on his own.)
Al Gore… who had developed this annoying, condescending manner of speech that made him sound, when he spoke to us, as though he were addressing a herd of unusually stupid sheep…. George W. Bush… who often sounded as though he had the brain of a sheep…. Here’s the thing: I have actually spent time in social settings with both Al Gore and George W. Bush. I’m not saying I got to know them well, but I will say that Gore seemed more natural in person and Bush seemed smarter. They were nothing like the two over programmed androids I saw debating each other on TV, both of them desperately trying to get all their memorized sound bites in.
I’ve also discussed this in direct reference to Biden, writing in the much mourned Politico Arena:
Considering the amount politicians are required to speak, it is astounding that there aren’t far more verbal missteps by politicians.
True, Biden appears more prone to these gaffes then others, but this is relative. In his 2008 debate with Palin, Biden handled himself masterfully – demonstrating that he was a seasoned, experienced figure – without appearing to bully Palin.
It is a guarantee that every candidate on both tickets will make verbal miscues. Sometimes these mistakes end up shaping a public image as in the unfortunate cases of Sen. Dole in 1976 or Quayle in 1988. Because Biden has a reputation for them, in a sense he is insulated from their fallout.
Personally, I’ve always thought Biden’s loquacious honesty worked for him – the apparent lack of artifice being the greatest artifice of all.
No one can listen to his heartfelt and honest remarks (drawn from his own deep well of feeling) about loss to TAPS The Military Survivor Network and not be touched. It is a stark reminder that, whatever one thinks of Joe Biden, there is a real person there who loves, hurts, and feels like the rest of us. Dare we consider that all of our politicians – who we primarily see as caricatures of one sort or another (robotic Hillary, dumb Rick Perry etc.) are real people. They – like the rest of us – do the best they can with whatever talents they’ve been given to wrestle with whatever shadows plague them.
Many say profoundly obnoxious things. In some cases they believe them, in others they mispoke. I know I have mispoken many times and said hurtful things. I have believed and articulated things that, in retrospect, are ludicrious. Most of us have.
Some of our politicians are deeply cynical people who are little more than animated ambition. (I believe these are fewer than popular opinion would have it, but such people exist. Maybe I’m an idealist – but I find almost everyone I meet has a certain spark of passion, a personality.) But if these ambitious automatons exisit, they are worthy of pity – for no matter how far or high they rise politics does not in the end feed the soul. Being in the grip of whatever compulsions drive them cancels any joy in their achievements.