Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review: Promises to Keep, by Joe Biden

Promises to Keep: by Joe Biden

For many pivotal moments that occurred in the last three decades in our nation's history, Joe Biden has had a front-row seat. He's been at the table, on the ground, and face-to-face with world leaders from every part of the globe, often at the invitation of Presidents who have sought his counsel and expertise in foreign affairs.

At times, I think we as a country take Biden's breadth of experience for granted, focusing on his gaffes and his longevity as the Senator from Delaware, the second-smallest state in the country. Delawareans, who were once accustomed to running into "our Joe" at Home Depot or the Charcoal Pit, either revere the man or roll their eyes at our perceived version of Dynasty, given Joe's longtime hold on the Senate seat and his son Beau's post as Delaware's Attorney General.

Put all that aside. Promises to Keep is a very interesting - and at times, fascinating - read. I expected to breeze through the beginning of this book, having heard much of Biden's personal story from the presidential campaign. I loved reading how much Neilia, Joe's first wife who died alongside their infant daughter in a Christmastime car accident in 1972, was involved in his first Senate campaign as well as Joe's sister Valerie - something that Valerie herself referenced in her conversation with The Husband when they met last May.

Some additional points of interest in Promises to Keep:

- It was striking to observe how much Biden's first Senatorial campaign in 1972 mirrored the Obama campaign in 2008 - minus the technology and the flush coffers - with the volunteers, the organization, the grass-roots mobilization. At one point, the Biden campaign didn't have enough funds to produce and mail a brochure to the voters of Delaware, so they hand-delivered the information to as many people as possible. The Biden for Senate campaign wound up reaching 85% of the homes in Delaware. In that campaign, Biden's opponent was someone who had been in the Senate for 25 years. Biden was routinely criticized about his age, not favored to win the election at all, very much considered to be an underdog. And as we know, the underdog won a Senate seat that he would hold for the next 36 years.

- Biden's explanation of the infamous plagiarism incident. Prior to reading the book, I had been under the impression that this particular "scandal" was akin to a heinous crime. Biden's side of the story is that he had been referencing Neil Kinnock in several speeches and, in one speech given at the 1987 Iowa State Fair, neglected to give attribution when he had done so on every other occasion. At the time, he was preoccupied with the confirmation hearings for Robert Bork, another process that was very interesting to read about. The result was a media firestorm and the undoing of Biden's bid for the Presidency.

- His account of suffering an aneurysm in 1988. Quite simply, Biden is lucky to be alive today.

- The fact that he was one of the lone voices calling for action in the Balkans as our country stood by as their people were shuffled off to concentration and rape camps, children killed in front of their parents, and other horrifying atrocities. And at the same time, his work on the homefront for many years on the Violence Against Women Act that gives protection and a voice to battered women and funding to domestic-violence shelters.

- Finally, and perhaps importantly, I dare anyone to read these words from Biden's speech to the National Press Club in Washington, DC and not feel your hair stand on end. This speech was given when President George W. Bush was pushing for funding for missiles, for a continuation of Reagan's Star Wars technology. Biden's point was that there were more serious factors at play within our nation's borders:
"So before we start raising the starting gun that will begin a new arms race in the world ... let's look at the real threats we face at home and abroad .... Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff say that a strategic nuclear attack is less likely than a regional conflict, a major theater of war, terrorist attacks at home or abroad, or any other number of real issues. We have diverted all that money to address the least likely threat, while the real threat comes to this country in the hold of a ship, the belly of a plane, or smuggled into a city in the middle of the night in a vial in a backpack."
Biden delivered that speech to the National Press Club the evening of September 10, 2001.

Written in 2007, Promises to Keep has the tone of a memoir penned to coincide with the launch of a presidential campaign; of course, Biden did exactly that in 2008. (The book concludes at the beginning of his 2008 Presidential bid.) At times, Biden toots his own horn a little too much - but you know what? At this point in his career, the man is more than entitled.

And we are more than entitled to have him as our Vice President. Forget the recession for a minute, if we can. There are still significant foreign relations/terrorism issues going on as I type. Whether you voted for Obama or not, we are fortunate as a nation that he chose Joe Biden as his VP. After reading Promises to Keep, having Joe Biden a heartbeat away from the Presidency makes me sleep a little bit better at night, in times that cause many a restless slumber.

Rating: 4, because of the campaign-stump-speech nature of the book in some places. It's not that overbearing, but it's noticeable. A recommended read.

1 comment:

Niksmom said...

I'm looking forward tor eading it. I remember following Biden's story as a kid (my parents were very politically active then). I had the honor to meet him this past summer. I have tremendous respect for him not only for his savvy, but for his humility and humanity.