The most tragic day of Joe Biden’s life was December 18, 1972. Just six weeks after being elected as the new Senator from Delaware, and two weeks before taking the oath of office, Biden’s wife Suzy (her real name was Neilia) and daughter Naomi were killed in a traffic accident. In that same accident Biden’s elder son Beau suffered a broken leg while his younger son Hunter suffered a fractured skull. Having just moved to Suzy Hunter’s hometown in October, my family had a front row seat to the grief that overtook the family.
Biden spent the next weeks by his sons’ hospital beds. He wondered whether or not he should even accept his seat in the Senate, fearing it would take him away from his new role as single father during a traumatic time for his remaining children. Only the personal intervention of then-Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield convinced Biden to be sworn in. At his ceremony, which took place at Wilmington General Hospital, Biden has his now dead first wife’s father, Robert Hunter, hold the Bible.
Biden spent the next 36 years in the United States Senate. He was never known as an outstanding intellect, but he showed an uncommon decency that allowed him to work with and be respected by his fellow Senators on both sides of the political aisle. Personal tragedy and hardship can do that to a person (think Franklin Roosevelt). In politics, and in life, a sense of empathy can go a long way.
In public life, Biden has had a tendency to commit bizarre gaffes at important moments. In 1988 during his first run for the Democratic nomination for President, he gave a speech that he’d plagiarized from British politician Neil Kinnock. He also has told bizarre and easily discredited lies, such as when he announced to a New Hampshire crowd that year that he had received three degrees from the University of Delaware (he only earned one).
In person, Biden curiously can be extremely condescending. Still, unlike many politicians one meets, when talking to Biden there always would be moments during a short conversation when you felt the essence of the man, such as when he discussed with us his fear about the waterboarding going on in Iraq while his son Beau was in the military.
Biden’s operatives often would ask some of us active in the pro-Israel community if we could raise money for another Biden Presidential run. The answer always was the same. We didn’t think there would be support.
Sometimes however, the moment meets the man. It was precisely his experience, knowledge and decency that caused Barrack Obama to pick Joe Biden as Obama’s Vice-Presidential running mate in 2008. Then tragedy struck Biden again. In 2015 Beau died of cancer. With Beau’s death went any hope of running for President in 2016.
Now in 2020, Joe Biden has been elected as much for who he is not as what he stands for. For the Democrats, he is not Bernie Sanders who could not connect with mainstream America. For the rest of the country he is not Donald Trump, for whom every day was a personal psycho drama. Since the election on November 3, Biden has been the anti-Trump, keeping mostly silent and then speaking in measured tones.
Biden always has been a staunch ally of Israel, but he has been a member of the mainstream foreign policy orientation that hit a dead end in Camp David in 2000. As Vice President, he supported the Iran Nuclear Deal in 2015 and did not oppose Obama’s refusal to veto UN Resolution 2553 in late 2016. After leaving office, Biden did not publicly support the moving of the American Embassy to Jerusalem by Donald Trump, nor did he vocally applaud the peace agreements with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan. As if trapped in the old mindset, Biden appears to retain the belief that peace with the Palestinians remains the key to the Middle East, thereby giving the Palestinians veto power over United States Middle Eastern policy.
Now 78, Biden will take office on January 20. The nation he takes over is one that is exhausted by the Coronavirus and the continuous narcissism of Donald Trump. It also though is a country that has made great strides in peacemaking between Israel and its Arab neighbors, largely through Trump’s refusal to accept the old school foreign policy thinking. Will Biden return the United States to the old mindset? Will he rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal and give centrality to peace initiatives with the Palestinians, both of which seemed to be going nowhere? O or will Biden embrace Trump’s policies that are anathema to many older foreign policy hands but which have borne so much fruit and put so much pressure on the Iranians and their allies?
Clearly Mahmoud Abbas and the Ayatollah Khamenei are celebrating Donald Trump’s defeat. If they celebrate Joe Biden’s policies, both the Middle East and the United States may regret returning to the old way of doing business, no matter how exasperated we are by Donald Trump’s daily antics.