As the country breathes a collective sigh of relief that in just a few weeks, human decency and respect for the office of the presidency will be restored in the White House, many might be wondering exactly who our president-elect really is. What are we getting when we inaugurate Joe Biden into our highest office? What has he done with his 77 years on earth leading up to this moment? We know he’s not a reality TV star or a failed business mogul or a Twitter-obsessed, unhinged, tantrum-throwing narcissist, but who exactly is he, and how did he get here?
You may have heard throughout his campaign, and especially during the election when Pennsylvania was listed as a “key state” in the path to victory that Joseph R. Biden, our newly elected leader, was born in Scranton, PA in 1942. As a child, he lived his first 10 years of life there before moving to Claymont, Delaware—the state that would become his “forever home.”
Being born in the early 1940s meant that Biden was a young adult during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement, an impressionable age and time of life that’s often full of energy and inspiration, and Biden says he was no different.
“During my adolescent and college years, men and women were changing the country—Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy—and I was swept up in their eloquence, their conviction, the sheer size of their improbable dreams,” he’s quoted as saying.
And it was that inspiration that led a young Joe Biden to jump into politics on a liberal platform, hoping to make a difference as so many of his idols had. In 1973, he did just that by becoming one of the youngest people ever to be elected to the U.S. Senate, representing his beloved state of Delaware—a seat he’d hold strong to until the inauguration of 2009, when he resigned as senator and began serving as Barack Obama’s VP.
Meanwhile, as he delved into public service in his twenties, another passion of Biden’s emerged—fatherhood. By 1971, Joe and his wife Neilia had three young children—Beau, Hunter, and Naomi.
Tragically, however, Joe Biden faced unimaginable loss in 1972 when Neilia and Naomi were killed in a car accident. Beau and Hunter were injured, but survived.
Joe soldiered on for his children (and his country), accepting the honor of serving as a U.S. senator, despite his grief. He was sworn in at Beau’s hospital bedside and commuted from Washington to Delaware daily so he could tuck his sons into bed at night.
Because from day one, although a politician, Joe Biden was a father first.
Eventually Joe’s heart began to heal, as it often does when loved ones pass, and he met and fell in love with a high school English teacher named Jill Jacobs. She would go on to be his partner for life, mother to their daughter Ashley, step-mother to Hunter and Beau, and will soon serve as our next First Lady.
Jill Biden is a lifelong educator with a doctorate in education and plans to continue working as a teacher, even while living in the White House. She and Joe also raised some pretty phenomenal kids—Ashley, who is a social worker, and Hunter, an attorney and lobbyist.
Beau was an Army Judge Advocate who served in the Iraq War and later served as Delaware Attorney General, but sadly, grief and loss hit the Bidens again in 2015 when he passed away from brain cancer.
However, as Joe Biden does, he got back up, despite living yet again through the unbearable pain of losing a child. The grieving dad initiated Cancer Moonshot in Beau’s memory, which aims to accelerate cancer research and make more therapies available to more patients, while also improving our ability to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage.
Another obstacle that Joe Biden has worked hard his entire life to overcome is a speech impediment—specifically, a stutter. When discussing his disability at a CNN town hall, Biden explained, “It has nothing to do with your intelligence quotient. It has nothing to do with your intellectual makeup.” And he also said that his ability to overcome the stutter was a testament to his mother believing in him. “‘Joey, don’t let this define you. Joey, remember who you are. Joey, you can do it,'” she would tell him as a child. “So every time I would walk out, she would reinforce me. I know that sounds silly, but it really matters.”
So we’re switching from a president who mocks those with disabilities to a president who overcame one. A president who sends the message to kids across America, across the world, just like his mom did, that their disability doesn’t define them, that they should remember who they are, and that they should believe in themselves.
So we know the character and resilience of Joe Biden, but how about his political career? He served as a U.S. Senator for 36 years and Vice-President for eight. So what did he accomplish? What was he most known for?
To start, notable titles he held include serving as chair of the Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee, which he humbly served as one of the “least wealthy members of the Senate”—which gives a clear view into the type of politician he is and always has been.
Not surprisingly to Biden fans, his legacy is one of bipartisanship, a work ethic that has become a backbone of this campaign—the willingness to work with those on both sides of the aisle. In fact, our new president-elect received the Congressional Patriot Award from the Bipartisan Policy Center in recognition of his work crafting bipartisan legislation with Republicans and Democrats. And his ability to bring parties together to reach a common goal is one reason many believe the Affordable Care Act did end up passing.
That’s right, folks! We’re getting a new president who knows how to play nice with everyone because that’s the only way to get things done.
He’s known for caring about this planet—a passion that dates back to the ’80s, as he sponsored one of the first climate change bills in the Senate in 1986. Over 20 years later, that commitment remained strong, as proven by his proposal to curb greenhouse gas emissions in 2007.
Also, an issue that’s clearly important to the former senator and Vice-President is to protect women from violence—a commitment that has led to him partnering with Lady Gaga and the It’s On Us campaign against sexual assault. But as much as working alongside one of the most famous pop stars in the world created buzz, Biden’s drive to fight violence against women didn’t start here. It started decades ago, back in 1994, when he co-sponsored the original Violence Against Women Act along with Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah.
Another clear testament to Joe Biden’s character occurred in 1986 while he served as ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was in this role that he proved his unwillingness to support the appointment of racists when he “urged then President Ronald Reagan to withdraw Jeff Sessions as a nominee for the federal district court in Alabama amid allegations that Sessions had made racially insensitive comments to staff while he was U.S. attorney in Mobile, Alabama.” However, as we now know, Sessions was not confirmed but went on to be a U.S. senator and attorney general under the Trump administration.
We know that on the campaign trail, a candidate has a lot to consider when choosing a VP. And when he viewed his list of options, Former president Barack Obama chose Joe. “He’s an expert on foreign policy whose heart and values are rooted firmly in the middle class,” Obama said of his former VP, who ended becoming a true friend. “He has stared down dictators and spoken out for America’s cops and firefighters. He is uniquely suited to be my partner as we work to put our country back on track.”
This powerful duo ended their tenure together in the White House with President Obama awarding then Vice-President Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the nation’s highest civilian honor. And Joe Biden was a worthy recipient.
President-elect Joe Biden has seen quite a bit of change in this country since he entered national politics at the naive age of 29. He served in the U.S. Senate for 3 1/2 decades, working with seven different presidents, before accepting the honor of being our Vice-President for eight years. He was motivated to help this country work through times of turmoil and fight for justice for all Americans back in the 60s, and he’s motivated to do the same today, sending a clear message with his running mate Kamala Harris that all of our votes matter, all of our voices matter, and all skin colors and ethnicities and religions and genders are valued in this country.
Joe Biden is poised to be an effective, qualified leader of the United States with the moral compass we so desperately need to propel us out these darkest of times.