Sunday, May 16, 2021

Can Joe Biden unite America? The answer lies in his past

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With emboldened bigotry, growing partisanship, and a deafening silence from GOP senators as dangerous conspiracy theories turn to their advantage, America is decidedly out of place. Can Joe Biden bring post-Trump America back to the center? Will his legacy be that of the chief healer?

Fortunately, Joe Biden’s long-held core beliefs will fare well in this time of unprecedented division. Ideally suited to calm a climate of anarchy, Biden’s values ​​include an emphasis on civility; an instinct to cross the aisle, often creating solutions at times when dead ends seem inevitable; and the conviction to give voice to the next generation, evidenced by a lifetime of dedication to the empowerment of young people.

How do I know these long-held core beliefs? I was present as these values ​​guided and defined the early stages of Biden’s public service and watched them mature over the decades to come.

As a teenage volunteer tasked with the logistics of implementing youth education and volunteering for the 1972 Biden Senate campaign (and son of State Party Chairman Henry Topel, who helped bring a young Joe Biden on the national stage), I had a front line seat to observe and engage with the behaviors and choices that continue to define the character of our president-elect.

After the defeat of most of the Democratic candidates in our home state of Delaware in the 1970 election, there was a radical need for change within the Delaware Democratic Party. Henry Topel appointed a renewal commission to review and reassess the Democratic Party statewide and suggest changes. The 25-member commission was aided by 100 volunteers who served in one or more of the eight task forces to conduct a six-month study on the party.

Among the 25 appointed members was Joseph R. Biden Jr., a 27-year-old New Castle County councilor. Biden chaired the Political Education Task Force, already known to have expressed his belief that one of the greatest responsibilities of politicians was to educate, motivate and activate young people. On May 26, 1971, Biden presented his findings, concluding: “We need to identify the issues of significant interest to young people – poverty, racism, draft, pollution – and develop legislative programs. We must integrate young people into the organization of the party at all levels.

The following month, the ratification of the 26th Amendment gave 18-year-olds the right to vote. Biden immediately put his youth empowerment theories into action, seeing personally that Delaware’s teenage population learned the power of their voice and vote – an effort that inspired an army of youths to the most unlikely political upheaval of his time with Biden’s victory in the Senate in 1972.

As a staple of Biden’s Senate campaign in 1972, political education unfolded rapidly in nearly every high school in the state. Biden, in addition to introducing the basics of participating in the democratic process, also emphasized respecting competing perspectives – a look at what would later become his practice of reaching the other side of the aisle in a bipartisan compromise.

I first observed this trait during Biden’s high school visits, where he reflected on the issues raised by would-be voters for the first time. He explained precisely why others might have opposing views. “I hear you, and here’s why a 70-year-old retired teacher might feel threatened by that point of view.

He taught empathy. It was palpable. He taught passion. It was contagious. He taught the essential need for respectful compromise – the art of listening to find common ground on which to move forward. It won him an election.

Over the years, the bill he co-sponsored in the Senate has exemplified his gift and inclination to cross the aisle. On the bipartisan ranking index, the non-partisan measure of a person’s ability to work across party lines in the House and Senate, Biden’s average score sits in the top 20% of elected officials. This is a mind-boggling achievement given the country’s ever-growing partisanship. And now, with the power of the presidency, Biden’s bipartisan vision could be fully realized for the first time.

Admire Biden or not, it’s his process, his confidence in empowering the next generation, and his belief in walking down the aisle in a spirit of compromise and respect that can trigger the restoration of a sorely lacking system. bipartisanship and end a civil war. that tore our nation apart.

The 2020 presidential election determined more than a simple balance of power. It opened up an opportunity to move in the direction of courtesy, compromise, inclusion and bipartisanship.

Throughout his service life, Joe Biden has shown an instinct for fair compromise; an insistence on courtesy and respect; and an intangible, all-American force forged after being toppled over and over and over and over again. The result is a level of familiarity, empathy, and authenticity that will serve him well as a chief healer.

David Topel is the author of The Heart of a Leader: The ’72 Biden Senate Campaign: Lessons Learned from a Youth Upheaval.

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