We were very concerned when we heard former Vice President Joe Biden’s recent remarks on NPR. And we were particularly surprised by this comment by Biden: “Details are irrelevant in terms of decision-making.” To give you a fuller picture, Biden said this in the context of discussing one of his many “verbal slip-ups.” In this specific case, troubling questions were raised by The Washington Post about the accuracy of Biden’s account of a moving war story that he has told differently over the years.
Biden’s argument was essentially that his flubs do not say anything about his ability to think, his ability to use good judgment, and his ability to lead this country. Biden believes that what should matter to Americans are his experience, his character, and his mission to “restore the soul” of America.
We believe that Biden has served his country with good intentions and mixed success for many years. We respect Biden’s service. And we are very happy that Biden served his country as a hard-working and steady vice president to former President Barack Obama. We are proud of the work that Biden and Obama accomplished together. But, when it comes to Biden’s 2020 bid for the White House, our fears and anxieties about Biden far outweigh our positive impressions of him as a valued member of the Obama administration.
When Zach told us that Biden said to NPR, "details are irrelevant in terms of decision-making,” we almost thought he was kidding. Being the president of the United States is a tough job and obviously you have to be able to remember a lot of details and be able to respond quickly to whatever is going on around you, and in the world. Even if Biden knows some details about his policy ideas, him saying publicly that details don’t matter makes us worry a bit about his judgment. We would think that common sense should tell an experienced politician not to say something like that.
As I’ve said to my dad many times now, it’s not like this is the first time Biden has said something inappropriate or false or insensitive. This is also not the first time that Biden has dismissed his own mistakes as being irrelevant. But what concerns me even more is how Biden seems to be given more favorable treatment than other candidates. He is given a break in situations where perhaps a candidate of color or a woman would be grilled. Our hope would be that understanding that reality would compel Biden to try harder to be better, to be more sensitive, and more accurate with his language.
Last week, Biden met with a group of African-American reporters and fielded questions for about 90 minutes. We do appreciate this gesture, and we understand what this public maneuver was intended to show, but we would like to see Biden’s verbal conduct significantly improve. And when Biden says something wrong or offhand, we hope that experts and voters alike will take him to task and consider other candidates who may be doing better than him in this and other respects.
I have also told my uncle that I am deeply worried about Biden’s past. I do not think that he has adequately addressed his role in passing the 1994 Crime Bill or his support for the Hyde Amendment. Every career politician votes for at least a few bills and later regrets some choices. But strong leaders with integrity and toughness should be prepared to step forward openly and explain how they have evolved, and admit that they were, for some period of time, in the wrong if not on the wrong side of history. Biden owes America some explanation.
While the three of us strongly support U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, we do not believe that Joe Biden is a terrible guy. We think that he is not as sharp or as quick as he might have been some years ago. We think he is too careless, too often. And we are disappointed to see Joe Biden continue to deny his own faults. This isn’t about ice cream and aviators. This is about American leadership. At some point, Joe Biden’s ducking and dodging should become an even more serious and pressing question about the content of his character.
We hope that in the next Democratic primary debate on Sept. 12, members of the Lynchburg community will watch closely to see if Vice President Biden really looks like he is in strong enough shape to lead our country amidst such turbulent times. We hope that each of you will ask yourselves: Is Joe Biden a candidate I can trust to handle the most delicate issues thoughtfully and responsibly?
For our part, we remain less convinced by what Biden has to offer.
Zachary R. Wood, a resident of New York City, is an assistant curator at TED. He wrote this column with his father, Clarence M. Wood, and uncle, LeAngelo Wood, both of whom were born and grew up in Lynchburg; they now reside in Washington, D.C. They wrote this column for The News & Advance.