Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to University members about promises — his promise to his late son Beau Biden, who passed away in 2015, and the promises of progress inherent within the American identity.
To Beau before his death, while he did not promise he would run for president, Biden did promise to “stay engaged.”
To the country on Monday, Biden emphasized that “we’re the only nation in the world that believes there’s nothing we can’t do.”
The event, sponsored by Brown Lecture Board, attracted around 2,000 students, faculty and staff to the University’s Pizzitola Sports Center Monday night. Biden’s appearance on College Hill came a week after Biden stated he is the “most qualified person in the country to be president” during a stop for his book tour. While Biden is still deliberating with his family over a presidential run in 2020, he is certain that “we can’t take six more years of this policy without doing serious damage to America,” he told the audience.
During the event, Biden spoke about the consequences of the “breakdown in our political system,” which has led to “a battle for the soul of America.” While he maintained good relationships with Democrats and Republicans as a senator, Biden said he has seen a gradual breakdown in cooperation between the two parties over the last decade. In the past 18 months alone, this breakdown has worsened, he said.
Though he and former President Barack Obama decided to “give the new (President Trump) a year to get settled” before making any judgments, Biden said he “could not remain silent any longer,” after hearing about the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“When that hate is given a space to fester, it gives license to others to come out of the darkness,” Biden said. “That hate will continue to grow,” he added, referencing the shooting at the Squirrel Hill synagogue , the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and the mailing of pipe bombs to several prominent critics of Trump. “Our children are listening, they’re watching and the words of our leaders matter.”
Biden also criticized the belief that the United States must close its doors to the challenges of other nations. This mentality “groups the world into us and them” and blames “our troubles on the other, the outsider, the immigrant,” he said. In a nod to late Sen. John McCain, R-AZ, Biden emphasized that McCain condemned the idea that “for America to succeed, others must lose.” Amid this political uncertainty, Biden urged students not to be silent or complicit. “We need to focus on the future, and we have to begin now to reweave those American values back into our political system.”
During his lecture, Biden also spoke fondly of his relationship with Obama during their eight years in office. Once a week, the two would eat lunch together, talking about “everything from family to politics.” Obama believed he and Biden made “up for each other’s shortcomings,” Biden said. Biden brought his ability to negotiate to the cabinet, as well as his patience with the legislative process. He was also “more decisive” than Obama and appreciated the former president’s methodical “measure twice cut once” strategy of governing, Biden said. For example, while Biden wanted to propel the Affordable Care Act through Congress to “get what we can right now and then push beyond that,” Obama chose a more measured approach to ensure the whole act passed.
After his lecture, Biden answered questions that were submitted in advance by audience members. Alexander Samaha ’19, the former editor-in-chief of the Brown Political Review and former intern at the Obama White House, moderated the discussion. One student asked about the American Dream, which Biden said he does not think “can be accomplished under the policies of (the Trump) administration.”
Throughout both the lecture and question-and-answer session, Biden alternated between a serious and light-hearted tone. While discussing his close friendship with Obama, Biden assured students that Obama “made the first friendship bracelet, not me,” referencing his birthday tweet for the former president that showed matching bracelets.
Biden also highlighted his confidence in younger generations to move the country in a positive direction.
“While there is real reason for concern, there’s greater reason for optimism,” Biden said. “Your generation is the most tolerant, generous, progressive generation in this country’s history,” he added. “You have the capacity to change the direction of this country all by yourself, but just get engaged in public life. Vote, volunteer, run. Your time is now.”