Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden discussed his upbringing and values, and shared memories from his eight years in Barack Obama’s presidential administration, during an event at Medford’s Chevalier Theatre Thursday night.
The event, which was moderated by former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, was part of a nationwide speaking tour coinciding with the release of Biden’s new book, “Promise Me, Dad” (2017). Biden did not address speculation that he is considering a run for president in 2020, instead focusing on his personal story.
Biden’s book deals heavily with the death of his son Beau Biden, the former Attorney General of Delaware who died in 2015 after a battle with brain cancer. At the event, he explained that he hopes the book will preserve the memory of his son for his family, while also conveying how he dealt with the tragedy to a wider audience.
“I wanted people to know there’s a way through this enormous grief,” he said.
In addition to his son’s recent passing, Biden also faced the untimely deaths of his wife and daughter in an automobile accident in 1972. He said that, through these experiences, he has found “relief in purpose,” and felt a strong duty to continue his work, rather than turn inward in sorrow.
“If you can turn your grief into a purpose that you think would reflect what the person you lost would want you doing,” Biden said. “I think there’s a way out.”
Sharing childhood stories, Biden highlighted two values he inherited from his father: an abhorrence of abuse of power and a strong belief in treating everybody with dignity. He added that the current state of affairs — with President Donald Trump’s equivocation around alt-right demonstrators and counter-demonstrators in Charlottesville, Va. last year — defied dignity.
Regarding Trump, Biden said that he senses a combination of embarrassment, fear and anger in many people with whom he has spoken. Beyond the current administration, however, he expressed concern that establishment figures in both major parties have forgotten about working-class and middle-class people. He says this is a mistake because jobs are a source of personal dignity and self-worth and because the nation’s working-class labor force is essential to the country’s success.
“There is a growing realization on the part of the public at large [that] we’ve got to focus on the things that made us who we are,” Biden said. “The glue that holds this country together is the working and middle class. That’s why we’ve had economic stability. That’s why we’ve had political stability. That’s why we’ve had social stability.”
Ultimately, Biden is optimistic that the United States is well-positioned for success in the 21st century, with a productive and highly educated workforce, strong publicly-funded research universities and plentiful venture capital. To that end, he added, he hopes people feel an obligation to participate in government in response to Trump and argued that millennials need to become more politically involved.
Biden shared his approach to governing during the Obama administration, explaining that he learned about foreign leaders’ goals and personalities by fostering personal relationships. This was possible, he said, because Obama placed a great deal of trust in Biden and delegated important tasks to him.
Biden was not initially interested in serving as vice president, he noted, but he decided to join the Democratic ticket in 2008 because of his admiration for Obama. He said that he and Obama share a similar set of values and claimed that, while they occasionally disagreed with each other on tactics, they always agreed on larger strategic issues.
“I watched this man make incredibly difficult decisions, and all I saw was character,” Biden said. “He has more character than any president I have ever worked with.”