He may not have publicly weighed in on those Obama Biden memes that everyone and their mothers were sharing online, but one can almost imagine Joe Biden being in on the joke. There has been no other politician in the White House who's enjoyed this level of meme-ability (next to President Obama himself, of course) while simultaneously exuding an air of blue collar authenticity few other politicians can lay claim to.
Biden has long been known for his ability to connect with middle- and working-class voters, but his folksy demeanor, coupled with a not-uncharming tendency to curse, has gained him a modicum of pop culture cult status, particularly among millennials. (A photo of hot young Joe, widely circulated on the internet recently, prompted odes of undying lust for the vice president from young women.)
Biden, of course, is more than just a pretty face and dazzling white teeth. He was a senator for 36 years — one of the youngest people ever elected to the United States Senate — before becoming right-hand man to the first African American president, and he's done a hell of a lot in that time. In matters of foreign policy and domestic affairs, Biden has proved himself an effective vice president, reinforcing Obama's authority or providing a contrast to the president's restraint as needed.
Biden's illustrious political career was in spite of the personal tragedies he's grappled with, and in his decades of public service and through the little we've gleaned about his personal life, he's proven to be the kind of guy who gets things done. As his life in politics seems like it's winding down — Biden quashed rumors of taking on the DNC chair — here's a look back on some of our favorite stories about Biden whipping things into shape.
1. Raising awareness about campus sexual assault.
The White House has made campus sexual assault a primary concern in the waning months of the Obama administration, with Biden leading the charge. Early in the summer, Biden was so compelled by the Stanford sexual assault case that he penned an impassioned open letter to the victim.
"I am filled with furious anger — both that this happened to you and that our culture is still so broken that you were ever put in the position of defending your own worth," Biden wrote. "What you endured is never, never, never, NEVER a woman's fault."
The veep was also deployed by the White House to promote its It's On Us campaign, touring campuses to give speeches on campus sexual assault awareness.
2. When he commuted three hours every day for 30 years so he could come home to his sons.
Weeks after he was elected to the Senate at 29, Biden's first wife Nelia and one-year-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident while Christmas shopping. His sons Beau, 3, and Hunter, 2, survived the crash but were critically injured. Biden considered resigning before taking office to take care of his sons, but the likes of Ted Kennedy encouraged him against it.
After being sworn into the Senate at the hospital where his sons were being treated, Biden commuted from Delaware to Washington D.C. and back each day, and continued to do this for more than 30 years as senator in a beastly balance of his work and personal life. Biden's Amtrak commutes earned him the nickname "Amtrak Joe" and gave him the opportunity to get to know his constituents. After he was picked as Obama's running mate, the Washington Post wrote of his commute:
Everybody here is used to seeing Joe Biden by himself, on his way to and from the train — used to being able to go up and shake Joe's hand, talk about the grandkids.
3. How he overcame his stutter.
As a child, Biden had what he called a "debilitating stutter" that he overcame by reading and reciting Irish poems to himself in front of the mirror. He's spoken frankly about his stutter and has made it a point to reach out to those who suffer from it, too.
Case in point: in 1994, then-Senator Biden had a Q&A with an eighth-grade class when he noticed one of the young boys had a stutter. Afterwards, Biden pulled the boy aside and told him that he, too stuttered as a kid but he never let it get in the way of his goals. A week later, Biden wrote him a letter encouraging him to work hard and treat everyone with respect. The boy, Branden Brooks, took Biden's advice to heart, and years later was sworn in by Beau Biden as a prosecutor.
4. When it took him five times to propose before his current wife, Jill, said yes.
Biden and his wife first met when she was still in college, nine years younger than him. On their first date, Jill recalled to Vogue, they went to a movie and he shook her hand good night after dropping her home.
Their relationship began there, but it took a little work to get Jill to say yes to marrying him. Alexandra Macon wrote in Vogue:
Joe Biden proposed five times before Jill finally accepted, telling Vogue: "I said, 'Not yet. Not yet. Not yet.' Because by that time, of course, I had fallen in love with the boys, and I really felt that this marriage had to work. Because they had lost their mom, and I couldn't have them lose another mother. So I had to be 100 percent sure." Joe remembers giving Jill an ultimatum, saying, " 'Look, this is the last time I'm asking you. I don't care when we get married. But I want a commitment.' And she said okay. But it took that!"
5. His efforts at curing cancer.
Shortly after Biden lost his son, Beau, to brain cancer in 2015, President Obama announced that the vice president would be in charge of curing cancer.
"Last year, Vice President Biden said that with a new moonshot, America can cure cancer," Obama said in his final State of the Union speech. "Tonight, I'm announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he's gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past forty years, I'm putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. For the loved ones we've all lost, for the family we can still save, let's make America the country that cures cancer once and for all."
Biden delivered his Moonshot Initiative recommendations to Obama this month, including "changing incentives in the research system, enhanced prevention and screening efforts, engaging patients as 'partners in research' with easy ways to share health information, expanded access to care and new therapies, and addressing rising drug prices," according to USA Today.
And Biden has pledged to work on this issue for the rest of his life. "For Joe and me," Jill has said, "this fight is personal."
6. Writing and passing the Violence Against Women Act.
As senator, Biden drafted the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and led the bipartisan bill to President Bill Clinton's desk. VAWA, which Biden has said is one of his biggest accomplishments, improved how criminal justice dealt with violence against women and expanded access to services that help survivors and their families. Its strong support in Congress from both parties proved Biden's ability to work across the aisle — some of his closest friends in the Senate are Republicans, like John McCain and Bob Dole.
7. When he pushed President Obama to announce his support for same-sex marriage.
In 2012, long before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Biden said on NBC's Meet The Press that he was "absolutely comfortable" with marriage equality. His remarks sent the White House into a frenzy as aides scrambled to answer questions from the press about Obama's stance on the issue. Three days later, Obama endorsed same-sex marriage and conceded that his plans to announce his support were brought forward because of Biden.
There were certainly reports about aides being "annoyed" with Biden for forcing Obama's hand on the issue, but ultimately, Biden stayed true to himself, breaking from Obama's line about "evolving" on his views to express his belief in marriage equality.
And it all worked out.
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