The Average Joe who could triumph over Trump

Resilience: The former vice-president lost two of his children in tragic circumstances. © Getty

Is ordinariness the secret of his success? He is not always suave and sophisticated. But if he wins tomorrow, Joe Biden will become the oldest first-time American president in history.

At his home in Delaware, the young boy was staring intensely into the mirror.

The other children mocked him mercilessly. They called him “Dash” and “Joe Impedimenta” – all because he had a stutter. Even the nuns who taught at his school made fun of him.

The boy took a deep breath. Then he opened his mouth and began to speak, reciting the long passages of Irish poetry seared into his brain. He would not stop talking until the stutter was gone.

Today, more than 60 years later, this young boy could within days be destined to become the most powerful person in the world, with the capacity to do huge good or tremendous harm.

But for Joe Biden, the path that has taken him nearly all the way to the top has not been easy.

Joseph Biden Jr was born in 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania to a middle-class family that had fallen on hard times. As a child, he moved to Delaware, where his father found work as a used car salesman.

After overcoming his stutter, Biden studied history and politics at university before attending law school. He was not the brightest student – he graduated 76th out of 85 in his class – but he went on to be a successful lawyer, before turning his attention to a career in politics.

An opportunity arose in 1972, when the Delaware Democratic Party encouraged him to run for a seat in the US Senate. Few thought he had any chance of winning, but with his sister as his campaign manager, he scored an upset victory. At 29, he was the fifth-youngest senator ever elected.

Tragedy struck just weeks after his victory when his wife Neilia and their one-year-old daughter were killed in a car accident while Christmas shopping. His two young sons survived, badly injured. Still in shock, he took his oath of office from his sons’ hospital room. “I felt God had played a horrible trick on me, and I was angry,” he later said.

Over the next 30 years, he forged a notable Senate career, becoming Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

But throughout it all, Biden harboured a deep desire to be president.

An initial campaign in 1987 ended quickly after accusations of plagiarism. Then in 2008, his second run failed to gain traction and he lost out to the young senator, Barack Obama.

Instead, he became Obama’s vice-president. The two men forged a strong bond, and in January 2017, just days before they left office, Obama presented an emotional Biden with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a surprise ceremony.

It was a second devastating event that prevented Biden from seeking the top job in 2016. His son Beau, a decorated war veteran, died from brain cancer in May 2015.

Even today, Biden’s bid to lead the free world has not been smooth sailing. He has passionately defended his surviving son, Hunter, after Donald Trump attacked him over his business dealings and drug addictions.

And the former senator is notorious for his gaffes – just last week, he mistakenly called his opponent “George”.

So, is ordinariness the secret of his success?

Aiming high

Yes, say some. Joe Biden has prevailed in politics because he can empathise with the struggles of the electorate. Like many Americans, he has suffered personal tragedies and career setbacks, and will defend his family despite any flaws. He may occasionally be forgetful and say the wrong thing – but voters are looking for a leader they can connect with, not one who is perfect.

No, say others. Biden is successful not because he is ordinary, but because he has worked hard and risen through the ranks to become a senator and then vice-president. And while pollsters suggest he will be victorious, he was not many Democrats’ first choice in the primaries. It may be anti-Trump sentiment, rather than a love for Joe Biden himself, that is driving voters to the polls.

You Decide

  1. Do you think Joe Biden will win the US presidency tomorrow?
  2. What makes someone a good leader?

Activities

  1. Imagine that you have been elected leader of your country. Write a victory speech thanking your supporters.
  2. If Joe Biden wins the election, he will be 78 when he is inaugurated in January. Hold a class debate on whether age matters in politics.

Some People Say...

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), American lawyer and 16th president of the United States

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
It is generally agreed that Joe Biden’s life and political career have been shaped by the tragedies that he has endured. After his wife and daughter died, he had to be persuaded to take up his Senate seat by then Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. It was his son Beau’s friendship and respect for Kamala Harris, with whom he worked as an Attorney General, that influenced Biden’s decision to choose her as his running mate.
What do we not know?
One main area of debate surrounds what kind of president Biden would be. For many Democrats, Biden is a compromise candidate. Some on the left of the party argue that he will be too moderate as President – he has a history of bipartisanship, and has said he would veto a universal medical care system. On the other hand, others believe that Biden may be more radical, willing to take political risks at the end of his career.

Word Watch

Dash
Biden was given the cruel nickname because his schoolmates thought his stammering sounded like Morse code.
Upset
An upset occurs in a competition, where the favourite to win loses. An upset victory is where the underdog wins.
Foreign Relations Committee
As a member of the committee, Biden advocated arms limitation in the Balkans and opposed Republican President George W Bush’s handling of the Iraq War.
Plagiarism
He was accused of copying parts of a speech made by Neil Kinnock, the former British Labour party leader.
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Obama awarded Biden the medal with distinction. It is America's highest civilian honour.
Hunter
Biden has said he is proud of his son for overcoming a substance abuse problem, but Trump has accused the family of corruption over Hunter’s business dealings in Ukraine.
Gaffes
Biden is known for verbal slips, such as when he asked a politician in a wheelchair to stand for applause. Aged 78, the Trump campaign has accused him of not being mentally fit to be President.
First choice
One of his strongest rivals in the primaries was Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist senator from Vermont.

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