Texan lawyer and Democrat John Nance Garner famously observed that the vice-presidency of the United States “is not worth a bucket of warm spit”.
Uttered in the 1930s, Garner’s words have been largely prophetic. Save for Al Gore, Richard Nixon and George Bush Snr, all of whom are remembered for feats and notoriety beyond the West Wing, very few vice-presidents are easily recalled. No so the case with Joe Biden, former US president Barack Obama’s second in- command.
During their time in office, the pairing became the archetype of the celebrity “bromance”, winking and nudging one another in the face of global crises as Twitter users cooed adoringly. Yet despite the ten million memes and public affections, this relationship was no stars-and-stripes façade. Perhaps more than any other president before him, Obama truly regarded Biden as a confidant, and trusted him implicitly in negotiating deals with the world’s most despotic leaders.
Particularly in the US, where pomp and circumstance are the cornerstones of a successful political career, it is very easy to lose sight of the human behind the persona. In this account, Biden recounts the raw emotion of the most difficult year in office, centred on his son Beau’s fight against a malignant brain tumour. He explains in detail the endless worries he has over his son’s prospects for survival, but also the need for secrecy over his condition.
With the growing threat from Isis and Russian President Vladimir Putin looking to make a move on the Ukraine, he cannot be seen to be weak as Obama has tasked him with arriving at solutions in a hurry. The intersection between his personal and public life, ironically, is Beau himself. Biden is awe-struck by his child’s resolve in fighting the cancer, never shying away from untested medical procedures in order to overcome it. “All good,” is the standard response.
The vice-president draws inspiration from his son’s indefatigable spirit to throw himself into his work, not only exceeding Obama’s expectations, but cementing their friendship in the process.
What is really striking, however, is the manner in which he is able to convey his feelings amid the chaos. Biden kept a journal of his days and holds nothing back in relaying the hope and despair of this period.
There is almost a grandfatherly warmness to his words, yet he is also highly articulate and deliberate when he needs to be. It is the perfect marriage between Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie and the real-life tribulations of a global statesman. A fascinating and truly moving account.