Back in the summer of 1972, I recall spotting a billboard on the way to Rehoboth Beach. On it was a young guy with thinning hair wearing a tan raincoat. He was running for the U.S. Senate. I assumed he didn’t have a chance.
Senator Caleb Boggs, a Republican, the man he was challenging, had been elected to the U.S. Congress three times, governor of Delaware twice and U.S. senator twice. A decorated veteran of World War II, he had won each office by defeating an incumbent Democrat. He certainly was not going to lose to a member of the New Castle County council, a 29 year-old who was not even old enough to take the oath.
What I didn’t know is what kind of campaign young Joe Biden and his family were running.
Out in Utah where I was working on a congressional campaign that fall, there began to be talk of a possible upset coming in Delaware. In a year the Democrats were led by anti-Vietnam War crusader George McGovern, the candidate in Delaware was getting national attention.
What did it for Joe Biden, did it in a way I’d never seen before or since, was a piece of campaign literature – delivered by hand door-to-door over the last weekend. It resembled a New York or Philadelphia tabloid. On its front page were the words: “Joe Biden is making an impact on the U.S. Senate and he hasn’t even been elected yet”. On the inside pages were photographs of Biden with a series of distinguished U.S. Senators - Scoop Jackson, Hubert Humphrey, Phil Hart – in impressive Capitol locales. He looked like he belonged there; in fact, like he was already there.
That Tuesday, Biden won. In a year Richard Nixon killed McGovern, a star was born.
Then came the horror. Coming home from buying a Christmas tree, his wife and daughter were hit by a tractor-trailer, both killed in the crash. The two Biden boys, Beau and Hunter, survived – but just barely.
Stunned by the horror, their father committed himself to spending every night back in Delaware. The decision, which he kept faithfully, changed his political career. Not being a part of social Washington, he never gained admission to the senate “club.” He never made friends with the Washington media crowd. Much like a day-hop at college, he built his life back home with his family, being a father.
And now again, it’s in that role that we see him, a father who has lost a child. That’s who he was when the country first met him, who he is now.
Beau Biden, a man everyone who knew him respected, an honest, good and positive public servant, a father himself, is dead.
This is no time for politics, even as it has sprinkled itself these many years among the Biden family tragedies. In the face of death, the verdicts and glories of politics simply lose their place in human life.