Joe Biden is at the Top of the List

About eleven years ago, I heard Joe Biden speak for the first time. I was watching a Democratic presidential primary debate, and I had never heard of Joe Biden. In fact, I couldn't have named either Senator from Delaware (or Oregon, to be honest). But I remember thinking he was both intelligent and funny -- a rare combination in politics. He caught my attention and I kept paying attention over the years; he was my top choice to be Barack Obama's Vice Presidential nominee, and when he was selected I celebrated.

For the last ten years, I've watched and listened to Joe Biden pretty closely. I plan on pursuing a career in public service some day, and when I think about people that I want to be like, Joe Biden is at the top of the list. He's real and honest and often vulnerable, but he's also knowledgable and experienced and committed. 

Domestic politics has always been relatively easy for me to choose a side on. I consider myself pragmatic by disposition, but anchored by some core beliefs. All people deserve equal rights -- and all people means the LGBTQ community, people of color, religious minorities, and women. That's easy. All people should have health care, regardless of income level. Again, easy. We ought to preserve our environment for future generations, including protecting our air and water. These things, to me, were never a question.

Ten years ago, I knew next to nothing about foreign policy. A friend of mine grew up watching The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, and today he knows as much about foreign policy as anyone else I know. His experience wasn't mine; I grew up watching Recess and Boy Meets World. I knew nothing about foreign policy when I started paying attention to politics in 2006. Watching and listening to Joe Biden, who seemed to have a better handle and a better take on Iran, North Korea, Darfur, and other pressing international issues of the day, informed what I believed and what role I thought America ought to play in the world.

Joe Biden is an American Exceptionalist and an internationalist. He believes in robust American engagement in the world. He believes in American leadership around the world. I believe in all of that, too.

There's a video on YouTube that means a lot to me. I saw it for the first time almost a decade ago; it's a video of then-Senator Joe Biden speaking to a relatively small group of people in an Iowa classroom about genocide in Darfur. I didn't know much about Darfur (I didn't know much about anything), but I was upset and angry. It was hard for me to understand the "typical politician" response to the genocide in Darfur: talk it over, negotiate, engage in diplomacy. But people are dying, I remember thinking. How are we okay with that? How are we okay not doing something? What's the point of having the world's greatest, largest, strongest military if you don't use it for good? To defend innocent people? 

Joe Biden said something different.

The video has only 431 views on YouTube; part 2 has only 359 views. I've seen them so many times I think I must be about half of those views.

Here's one of my favorite excerpts:

"Some of you were very angry with me because I, as the President paraphrased it, I beat President Clinton up and about the head for two years to use force in the Balkans. Some of you will remember, you were very angry with me, because Joe Biden, liberal Democrat, why is he talking about the use of force in the Balkans? Because I went in 1991 and I sat across from Milošević, and when he asked me what I thought of him, I said 'I think you're a damn war criminal and I'll spend the rest of my career seeing you're tried as one.' Because I was aware of the rape camps. I was the only one that traveled through and into that country. I laid out in clear detail about the rape camps that were existing, what was happening in Srebrenica, how we were standing by. The moment I was most ashamed of being part of a Western culture, watching -- watching -- that genocide unfold without any -- any -- action on our part, but yet knowing it was within our wheelhouse, within our capacity, taking a relatively small risk, to end that genocide. And we did. Not an American was killed. We have had 20,000 Western troops in the Balkans for ten years. Not one, not one, not one has died. There's a way to use force rationally to stop genocide." 

It blew me away. Nobody sounded like that. Nobody spoke with that much clarity and that much passion. Nobody won me over like he did. He was a liberal that spoke about U.S. foreign policy in a way that didn't involve America shrinking on the global stage, and that involved the U.S. taking actions in the best interest of humanity, even if it didn't seem like our country's own immediate self interest at the time. Innocent people were dying, and we could do something about it -- how could we not?

Biden concluded with a powerful thought: "I'm sick of this talk, I've had it to here, about what we cannot do."

I was in. He won me over and I've been on Team Biden ever since.