By D. Allan Kerr
In December 1974, Joe Biden’s wife Neilia and 1-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in an automobile crash which also injured the couple’s two young sons.
This should have been a glorious time for the Biden family.
The accident occurred just one week before Christmas – they were on their way to pick up a tree – and little more than a month after Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate at just 30 years of age. In a single moment he endured the most heart-ripping tragedy a person can endure.
The story has been told often in recent months, usually as an illustration of why Biden is so adept at conveying genuine empathy for the struggles of others in an age of political cynicism.
It casts Biden as a sympathetic figure and enhances his widely-acknowledged perception as a decent guy.
But there’s another compelling lesson to be learned from this chapter, as well as other chapters of Biden’s life, and it’s one I think gets overlooked by a lot of people – Joe Biden is a really tough guy to knock out.
First, just for a moment try to imagine yourself in Biden’s place at the age of 30, having to raise two young boys on his own after suffering such crushing loss.
My own boys are around the same age now as Biden was when the accident occurred, so when I picture him in my mind’s eye I see him as just a kid.
But he was a kid who also happened to be a newly-elected U.S. senator. Biden was sworn into office less than three weeks after the fatal accident, in the hospital where his sons were recovering.
He then began what became a decades-long daily routine of riding a train from Delaware to Washington D.C. and back home again, a nearly three-hour round trip, in order to be home with his motherless boys every night.
As most voters know by now, his oldest son Beau – who had a promising political career of his own ahead of him – died of brain cancer at the age of 46, leaving behind a wife and two young children. Biden was understandably devastated by the loss, calling Beau “quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”
Biden himself endured two brain aneurysms in 1988, the first one an emergency procedure after doctors determined blood was leaking into his brain. About 50 percent of such cases wind up being fatal, and 20 percent of those who survive wind up severely disabled. A Catholic priest actually administered last rites before Biden recovered.
The future vice president developed a blood clot in his lung while recuperating, but survived that as well. Then doctors removed the second aneurysm.
In childhood, Biden had to overcome a humiliating stutter – a fact I somehow never knew until this presidential campaign. A nun who taught at the Catholic school he attended reportedly referred to him as “Mr. Bu-bu-bu-biden,” and promptly got reamed out by Biden’s mother.
He was more comfortable on the football field, where he was a star receiver in high school, and over time gained more confidence in himself. He practiced speaking in front of a mirror, reciting Irish poetry.
He was elected class president his junior and senior years in high school, went on to the University of Delaware – where he also played football as a freshman – then got his law degree from Syracuse.
Even from the start he had a hardscrabble existence, growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where his father had a hard time finding steady work and the family had to live with Biden’s grandparents for several years. They moved to Delaware when Biden was around 10.
We see TV commentators praise Biden as a nice guy, someone who can give America the hug it so desperately needs during these times – sort of a calming Mister Rogers-type assurance.
Even those Republican senators who served alongside Biden in Washington for so many years are on record praising his decency and integrity, although now they’ve shifted their rhetoric to portray him as somehow crooked.
And yeah, these are great characteristics, especially after what we’ve been getting from the Oval Office over nearly four years. But folks don’t seem to understand these hardships Biden had to overcome also honed his character and resilience.
This is a guy who’s been tempered by life to the point where he’s pretty much as durable as oak.
Which is why Donald Trump and his advisors were utter dopes for underestimating Biden prior to their Sept. 29 debate.
Even Tucker Carlson, a Fox News Trump sycophant, had to concede conservatives foolishly downplayed expectations for Biden, making the Democrat’s performance appear surprisingly effective.
Trump tried his best to fluster Biden, and when Biden stayed cool Trump’s efforts grew so desperate he wound up looking like a flailing blowhard.
And when Biden finally barked “Will you shut up, man??” it seemed like he was speaking for millions of Americans who’ve been waiting five years to hear someone same that to Trump’s face.
I’m pretty sure this is the moment of the debate history will most remember – along with Trump trying to make fun of Biden’s practice of wearing masks just a couple of days before Trump himself tested positive for COVID-19.
And if you’re paying attention, you’ll notice Trump has been even more erratically unhinged in the days since that encounter.
Since Trump first started running for president in the 2016 election, I’ve been struck by his uncanny resemblance to the Heat Miser from the Christmas classic “The Year Without a Santa Claus.”
After watching clips from the debate, it became clear to me why Trump has always been fearful of a Biden candidacy – Biden is Snow Miser, the ultra-cool counter to Trump’s incendiary persona.
Which is why, at this particular chaotic point in history, he is the Democrats’ ideal opponent for Trump in 2020.
(Oct. 10, 2020)
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