In Promises to Keep, Joe Biden reveals what his life experiences in politics have taught him about himself, his colleagues, and government institutions. This book covers family tragedy, life-threatening health scares, and childhood challenges. Throughout, Biden provides the lessons he has learned from each setback. He suggests that people adopt a positive outlook on life irrespective of what happens. Plus, he argues the case for politics being a noble cause with the potential to genuinely change people’s lives.
About Joe Biden
Joe Biden represented Delaware for 36 years in the U.S. Senate before serving as 47th Vice President of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Biden has been involved in several charitable pursuits by creating the Biden Foundation, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, and the Biden Domestic Policy Institute. Biden is also the Democratic candidate for the 2020 election.
Family Car Accident
In 1972, Biden turned 30 and was inaugurated into the Senate. However, soon after his birthday, he learns that his family had been in a car accident. Biden explains that he remained optimistic when traveling in the car to the hospital. However, once he saw his brother’s face, he knew that things were not okay. All three of Biden’s children had been in the car with his wife when the accident happened. Biden’s wife, Neilia, had been killed. Plus, Biden and Neilia’s baby daughter also died.
Understandably, Biden struggled to deal with the passing of his wife and young child. He immediately contacted the Senate to explain that he could no longer be sworn in. His inauguration had been planned for two weeks away. However, Mike Mansfield, the Senate majority leader, relentlessly called Biden, explaining that they needed him to become part of the Senate. Although Biden consistently rejected these claims, Mansfield got through to Biden by explaining that he owed it to Neilia to become a senator. Biden agreed and accepted Mansfield’s proposal of a six-month grace period to come to terms with this disaster.
Biden’s Second Marriage
Five years after Biden’s first wife passed away, Biden was ready to meet somebody new. He met Jill Jacobs in 1975 when he was 32, and she was 24. Two years later, he asked her to marry him. She was willing to accept, but Biden expected she would want him to leave the Senate. The Senate was having a significant impact on their relationship due to the long hours and constant traveling.
Biden was set to tell Bill Frank, a chief political reporter, that he would no longer be re-running for Senate. He was ready on the phone and had started ringing Bill. However, just as Bill was about to pick up, Jill put the phone down. She explained to Joe, ‘If I denied you your dream, I would not be marrying the man I fell in love with.’ Biden retained his job as a senator, and he and Jill were married at the U.N. chapel in New York in 1977.
“If you do politics the right way, I believe, you can actually make people’s lives better. And integrity is the minimum ante to get into the game.” – Joe Biden
Biden explains that he holds the same view now as he did back in 1973 when he first had to vote on abortion. Biden is opposed to abortion, but he disagrees with imposing his views on the rest of society. Therefore, he voted in favor of a woman’s right to choose whether they want an abortion. However, Biden did not vote in favor of using federal funding for abortions. Essentially, he explained that he was unwilling to support abortion, but he also would not oppose a woman’s choice.
“I believe all Americans are born with certain inalienable rights. As a child of God, I believe my rights are not derived from the constitution. My rights are not derived from any government. My rights are not denied by any majority. My rights are because I exist. They were given to me and each of my fellow citizens by our creator, and they represent the essence of human dignity…” – Joe Biden
Biden recalls his experiences of what his local city, Wilmington, was like in the period after MLK’s assassination. He explains that the city had been under martial law for nearly six months. MLK’s assassination was accompanied by sniping, looting, and arson. Wilmington was the only city in the U.S. that refused to call off the Guard from patrolling black neighborhoods. Despite this, Governor Terry was acting on the views of his local residents. Although Biden did not necessarily agree, his fellow citizens were happy to have the Guard in these areas. They were afraid riots might ignite from the ghettos. In contrast, Biden explains that black residents were terrified. Their neighborhood was filled with loaded weapons and curfews.
Biden and Busing
In 1978, Biden was pushed to give a concrete opinion on busing. He recalls an event in a school gymnasium in a working-class town near Wilmington. As a senator, Biden was being pushed to provide his opinion on the controversial busing policies. Biden attempted to explain that there was a difference between unintentional and government-intended segregation. Biden was against unintentional segregation based on housing patterns and community comfort. However, he was in favor of intentional segregation. Biden explained to the crowd that he would personally pay for helicopters to move the children in the case of intentional segregation. This was a very unpopular opinion. Biden still held this view when he wrote this book in 2007 but accepts that he did not present his opinion in the best way. Busing took effect just a few weeks before the 1978 Election Day.
Biden has been highly influential in crime legislation for decades. Since the mid-70s, he has been working on crime issues in the Judiciary Committee. Plus, since the mid-80s, he has been the Democrats’ most important individual in the Senate on crime legislation. Biden explains that he has always aimed to defend the civil liberties of the accused. However, he also believes that the police need the tools to fight crime. For example, he has always supported having more cops on the street, better equipment, and sentencing guidelines that put violent individuals away for longer sentences. Biden sees safety and security as the first duty of the government. Therefore, some Democrats have seen Biden as going over-the-top with his law-and-order views. To Biden, the most important thing is that he provides safe homes, streets, schools, and public places.
Violence Against Women
Biden authored the Violence Against Women Act in 1990. Biden was convinced this might be the most crucial piece of legislation he had introduced and among the most difficult to turn into law. Biden explains that he was surprised by the resistance from inside-the-beltway women’s groups. His views on abortion potentially skewed people’s idea of his intentions.
Biden also explains that the resistance could also have been due to these advocacy groups being worried about this act being a distraction from their main issues.
“VAWA failed to reach the Senate floor in 1990 and finally passed in 1994. Violence against women would no longer be written off as “she was asking for it” (rape), “sexual miscommunication” (date rape), or “a family matter” (domestic abuse). Once our criminal justice system recognized these as serious & inexcusable crimes, women could stop blaming themselves.” – Joe Biden
Personal Beliefs and Experiences
“My own father had always said the measure of a man wasn’t how many times or how hard he got knocked down, but how fast he got back up. I made a pledge to myself that I would get up and emerge from this debacle better for having gone through it. I would live up to the expectation I had for myself. I would be the kind of man I wanted to be.” – Joe Biden
Abuse of Power is the Greatest Sin
Biden is a catholic and accepts that his faith and religion inform his public policy views. He was asked to give a speech on this topic, and in this book, he explains that it was one of the most enlightening experiences of his life. In this speech, he outlined that the greatest sins are committed by people of standing that abuse their power.
From a young age, Biden was taught that power and privilege come with a responsibility to treat others with respect and fairness. When he sees people abusing power, he sees it as our duty to intercede on behalf of their victims.
Biden has had a stutter since childhood. However, this stutter would come and go. Joe was fine when relaxing at home with his siblings or with his friends on the baseball field. However, new situations or circumstances, like reading in front of the class, would be accompanied by a severe stutter. Subsequently, in his freshman year, he received an exemption from public speaking.
Despite the difficulties associated with his stutter, Biden explains that he would never wish away his darkest days with the stutter. Having to deal with the embarrassment made him a better person. He learned a considerable amount during that time that he could apply to his life and career.
Politics Is Noble
Biden was taught by his Grandpa in the 1950s that politics was a matter of personal honor. Plus, that a man’s word is his bond. Since then, Biden has believed that politics has the potential to actually make people’s lives better. However, politics has to be done in the right way. You have to maintain integrity and honesty.
Having Brain Surgery
In 1988, Biden had a C.T. scan and an angiogram after he had passed out with no apparent reason. The doctor who subsequently provided his results looked extremely worried. They had found an aneurysm just below the base of Biden’s brain. The doctor explained to Biden that he was lucky to be alive and that if the aneurysm bled again, it was very likely he would not survive.
Biden explains that the worst bulge and leak meant that the next rebleed was imminent. Therefore, as well as a high chance of death if his aneurysm bled again, Biden was also told that the next bleed was expected to happen soon. Therefore, he had to have brain surgery. The doctor wanted to shore up the spot where he had bled. This surgery was highly invasive and carried clear risks. Firstly, Biden’s chance of surviving the surgery was roughly 50-50. However, there was an ever greater likelihood that Biden would survive but be left with severe mental deficits. The most likely outcome was a loss of speech. Subsequently, the surgeon suggested that Biden spoke to his family as it might be his last chance. Luckily, Biden fully recovered from the surgery.
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