I had assumed this book was primarily about the illness and death of Biden’s son Beau. That issue figures large in the text, but it is woven together with his family relationships, his devotion to civil rights and peace, his many years as a Senator, and his extraordinary relationship with President Obama during their eight years in office.
A lot has been made about the “bromance” between Biden and Obama, complete with memes, cartoons, and purported conversations. The best are those where Biden cooks up pranks he wants to pull on Trump and the incoming administration and is thwarted by the ever-patient, chiding President.
Certainly trust, respect, and humor figure large in the relationship between these two men, but the witty moments overshadow what has become apparent to me in this book: that Obama and Biden had a co-presidency of sorts, rather than the typical president/vice president relationship in which the VP is typically relegated to ceremonial occasions, minding the Senate, and filling in here and there. Reluctant to accept the VP nomination, Biden hedged for some time, feeling that this “in-the-shadows” role would be a let-down from his very active and productive work in the Senate over a period of thirty-five years.
But it turned out that what Obama wanted was someone with that extensive experience, someone he could actively work and consult with and trust to do the job. At a secret meeting prior to the nomination, Biden asked Obama “if he really meant what he said that he wanted me to help him govern, especially in foreign policy matters.” Biden trusted him, but wanted a little more: “I want to be the last guy in the room on every major decision…You’re president. I’m not. I get it. But if it’s my experience you’re looking for, I want to be the last guy to make the case.” (64) Thus, a veritable co-presidency was born, with Biden wading into Iraq (“Joe will do Iraq. He knows it. He knows the players.” (74). Biden was heavily involved in negotiating with Putin and Ukrainian leaders in the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, played a major role in the drafting and enactment of The American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009, and interfaced with various congressmen and senators to push Obama’s agenda forward.
I’m left with a few questions:
What was Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State doing during this period, when Biden’s responsibilities seemed to overlap with her own? He speaks of Clinton regarding the ramp-up to the 2016 election, but makes no mention of her role and where the two might have worked together in these areas.
Is anyone minding the store today?? In reading about all the various responsibilities Biden had, the expertise he was able to apply in so many different areas, and the precariousness of the world’s dynamics, one has to wonder if anyone is now attending to any of these issues? Certainly Trump has proven himself incapable of anything resembling diplomatic behavior or basic civility, and I expect that Pence, while probably strong in the legislative realm, is no international figure of any import.
Lastly, why can’t there be more Bidens and Obamas in the world? Where are the educated, humane, emotionally strong men and women who could pick up where Biden & Obama left off, or more precisely, who have the wherewithal to restore our country to a functioning democracy? I know they have to be out there.
Promise Me, Dad is well worth the read, giving a picture of political life and family relationships during the time of a son’s illness.