JOE BIDEN: The Man, Myth, the 46th U.S. President

Having been the Vice President of the United States under the Obama presidency, Joe Biden has come a long way, battling a formidable foe, to win the U.S. presidential election in a convincing victory that has brought much joy to his supporters. You & I takes a look at the man’s journey as a politician, and what made him the perfect candidate to defeat the Goliath-like, incumbent President Trump.

In what can only be considered a Bollywood movie plot twist, the 2020 U.S. presidential election finally churned out one winner: Joseph R Biden Jr. There was mudslinging on both sides, there was drama unfolding on TV, tweets being fired out faster than one could say “hanging chad,” and allegations of election fraud being brandished that made the world gasp. The globe’s most powerful democracy stumbled before finally righting itself and coming to its senses.

A long-time U.S. politician, Biden, when he is sworn in on January 20, 2021 will be the oldest U.S. President to hold the office at 78 years of age. He will also be only the second Catholic President (after John F. Kennedy) and one of only a handful of Vice Presidents to have successfully won the presidency. While Biden’s win has made many in the U.S. and around the world ecstatic, there are still millions of men and women in the U.S. who will be distraught over the departure of President Trump – a man who they believe is a champion for their causes.

Though the Biden victory has been accepted by most parties concerned in the U.S., the incumbent himself is yet to concede defeat (at the time of writing this). Just a day ago Donald Trump, in a fit of rage tweeted, “I won the election!” Trump’s reluctance to admit defeat and support a smooth and peaceful transition has been, for lack of a better word –un presidential. Never before in U.S. history has the world had to witness vitriol and venom the likes of which we have seen in Trump’s time. While Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 was a classic example of this strategy’s success, Biden somehow managed to stay afloat, rising above the barrage of name-calling, allegations and conspiracy theories that Trump flung his way.

The Man

Born in 1942 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Joe Biden lived in Delaware for most of his life. His family lived a comfortable, middle class life, where his father supported them through several business endeavors, finally becoming a used-car salesman. Though not the best student, Joe had an innate ability to lead and became the class president in both his junior and senior years at school. He also briefly played freshmen football. In 1966, Joe married his first wife, Neilia Hunter and began working as a public defender, having studied law in college. The profession didn’t pay all that well, and he took to managing properties to supplement his income and keep his household afloat.

It was during his time as a lawyer that Biden was elected to the local county council seat of New Castle, Delaware, in what was considered to be a predominantly Republican area. This was how he got his first taste of politics. In 1972, he managed to unseat the Republican junior U.S. Senator from Delaware by running a campaign that was mostly managed and run by his family members. Going door to door, canvassing neighborhoods with little money, the win for him was monumental.

That same year, however, life dealt Joe a bad hand, when his wife Neilia and daughter Naomi were killed in a car crash while out Christmas shopping. His two sons, Hunter and Beau, survived the accident but had to be taken to hospital with minor injuries. By the time he was inaugurated in 1973, Joe became the sixth youngest senator in U.S. history, being just 30 years old at the time. Still, his wife and daughter’s death left him with a scar that would take a lifetime to heal, and at one point caused to question his religious beliefs, stating that he “felt God had played a horrible trick” on him. Tragedy struck again in 2015 when Joe’s older son, Beau Biden – himself a successful politician – died from a brain tumor.

The Myth

By 1988, Joe Biden was a seasoned politician in Washington, having been part of lawmaking for nearly 16 years. His early Senate activities and his votes on several bills during his initial years in power were sometimes brow-raising, but Biden himself has confessed to being “liberal on civil rights and liberties, senior citizens’ concerns and healthcare but conservative on other issues, including abortion and military conscription.”In short, during these early years, Biden was making up his mind on policy, sometimes voting conservatively, only to later learn and gravitate toward a more typically Democratic Party ideology. At 46 years old, he decided to take a go at the President’s office and began campaigning for it the same year.

Though he was initially a frontrunner from the Democratic Party, the campaign ran into some problems. Allegations of plagiarising other political speeches and sometimes exaggerating his accomplishments – be it his educational past or his involvement in civil rights marches – eventually caught up with his campaign, which was mismanaged and filled with power-play issues. Biden eventually withdrew from the race, saying his campaign was overrun by the “exaggerated shadow” of his past mistakes and the myth his team was trying to create around him.

Over the next two decades Joe served as the senator from Delaware for another four terms, climbing higher and higher in the Democratic Party, being part of several judiciary and foreign relations committees. He spearheaded a number of monumental bills and his work as a lawmaker since the 70s made him one of his party’s senior and most respected members.

In 2008, Biden once again embarked on a presidential campaign, but with high profile candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, he found himself outmatched and withdrew from the race. It was during this time that he and Obama became close, though, when earlier they had resented one another; it’s been said that Biden found Obama’s rise in the party too quick, and Obama felt Biden was too garrulous and patronising, part of the Democrat’s Old Guard. The rest, as they say is history, with Obama choosing Biden to be his running mate for the election and defeating John McCain to win the presidency.

The 46th President

Trump’s presidency has been, well… unprecedented. Never in the history of politics has social media played such a large role in international affairs. Trump’s tweets shook and stirred leaders around the world – his colourfullife, his past bankruptcies, his tax records, his ties to the Russians, his treatment of the media, his ever-changing core staff, and even the inclusion of his own family in top White House positions. His actions prompted many people to wonder whether they had elected a monster to the most coveted throne of power in the world today. Trump’s supporters, however, never gave up. In Donald they saw a way to win back the country they felt they were owed. While his policies were extremely divisive and sometimes outright lunatic, there certainly were some memorable moments in the four years that Trump has been in power. Meeting Kim Jong Un, for example, although not resulting in de-escalation of tensions between the two countries, did manage to make for an historical moment – the first time a U.S. President took a step on North Korean soil!

With his inflammatory lingo, hand gestures and moody pouts to dismiss those who would come in his way, Trump has been a President like no other. By the end, though, Trump had become a caricature of his former self. He fought journalists in the White House more intensely than world leaders that threatened his country, he talked more about the ‘wall’ than unemployment, and with Covid-19, he focused on blaming China rather than taking strong steps to stop the virus’ spread across his country.

In many ways, Trump’s failures enabled Biden to become the 46th U.S. President, an office he had failed to attain on two previous occasions. His presidency is also noteworthy because of his choice of running mate: Kamala Harris. The half Indian, half Black U.S. Senator from California will be the first woman to hold the office of Vice President of the United States. Her Indian heritage, with her mother having immigrated from Tamil Nadu to the U.S. in the 1950s, also makes her particularly interesting from our own national-agenda perspective.

A major point of discussion in India today is what this presidency will mean for India. Funnily enough, a news item doing the rounds is that Biden himself has far flung relatives who live in Nagpur today. A common ancestor, Christopher Biden, was a captain with the East India Company in the late 1790s. The Irishman’s family had migrated all over the world, with one tree having survived in Madras, before moving to Hyderabad and then Nagpur. Joe had even corresponded with his Indian relative, Leslie, since the 80s.

Though Trump and Modi had a great relationship, which our government used to its advantage– oftenas leverage over China and Pakistan – only time will tell how Modi and Biden will bond. Unfavorable comments from the Biden camp on Kashmir and Assam have the government on a tender footing for the time being, as they watch Trump litigating election wins across several states and crying foul about election tampering. However the cards fall, the globe has breathed a sigh of relief and welcomed the New Commander in Chief of the Free World with open arms, hoping he’ll stick to his election slogan – “Our Best Days Still Lie Ahead,” at a time when no other message could possibly be needed more strongly.     --- Vishwaveer