(Taped Thursday, August 3, 2006)
MR. SCULLY: Senator Joe Biden; middle name is Robinette. Where does that come from?
SEN. BIDEN: It's my grandmother Biden's maiden name. It's French. And it goes back a long, long way. Allegedly the Robinettes came over with Lafayette and never went home. I don't know that. We can't guarantee that. But it goes back a long way in Maryland and West Virginia. My dad was born in Baltimore, Maryland and worked his way to Scranton, from Wilmington to Scranton with his dad, who was working for the American Oil Company.
MR. SCURRY: Where does the Biden name come from in Ireland?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, it doesn't. The Biden name was actually English. We did -- since I was thinking of running for president, I actually went back and said, "I'd better figure out, you know, some of this stuff," and went back. And the Bidens have been here since 1825, and two brothers came from England.
My mother's side is all Irish and part of my dad's side is the Hanafees (sp); there's some Irish there as well -- Irish, French, but English; English, Irish and French, my dad. But it's an English name. And they immigrated here in the early 1800s. And my mother's family all immigrated from Ireland in the mid 1800s to Scranton, Pennsylvania.
MR. SCULLY: How much time did you spend in Scranton before moving to Delaware?
SEN. BIDEN: I spent -- I moved when I was in third grade, but I spent every summer up there, every holiday. My grandfather Finnegan was still alive. We had family up there. When I got married, my first wife, who is deceased -- when I got married in 1967, it was funny; I looked at the -- it was a big wedding and we had five, six ushers, and two of them were from Scranton. And I kept -- and I still get back home. Everybody in my family still calls Scranton home. And we've been out of Scranton for 50 years; my mother that long as well. But, you know, it's not unlike where you grew up on the other end of the state. It's neighborhoods. It's ethnic. You know, it's -- I like Scranton a lot.
MR. SCULLY: We have a photo with you, your mom and dad. It's in your Senate office. Where was it taken? And tell us a little bit about your parents.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, it was taken -- I guess that was taken probably 15 years ago. It was taken in my Senate office. And my dad used to love to come down to the Senate with me. He was semi-retired then. He was a salesman. And he used to love to come down. If you asked my dad in those days, you know, "What does your son do?" and he'd say, "My son" -- you wouldn't even need to ask him; he'd say, "My son's a United States senator."
You'd ask my mother, you know, if she had any children and she'd say, "Yes, I have four children," and I'd be mentioned last; and so very different. My dad was very, very proud of the fact I was a senator, and he loved to come to Washington with me.
MR. SCULLY: As long as we're looking at photographs, there's a picture of a younger Joe Biden at the dugout with one of your sons at a baseball game.
SEN. BIDEN: Well, that was taken -- I played in an exhibition baseball game up in the Nemonds (sp) Road field to raise money so they could get lights. It was a semipro field. And I was sitting there. My right hand is draped, and that little guy next to me is my son, who is 37 years old; is the Democratic candidate for attorney general in the state of Delaware, captain of the National Guard. But that was years ago, probably 28 years ago. And I hit a ball off the left- centerfield fence, which is unusual. As I was rounding third base, they said, "Come on," you know. And I turned around and saw the cutoff man with the ball at second base, so I slid back in head first to first base and ended up breaking my wrist.
It was 1978 -- (laughs) -- because they thought it would be just real fun -- it was an exhibition game -- to see Biden hit an inside- the-park home run. I didn't think it was so funny. And right after that picture was taken, I quietly slipped out of the dugout and went down to the Delaware Hospital to get my hand put in a cast. (Laughs.) So much for my prowess as a baseball player.
MR. SCULLY: Beau Biden on the ballot, as you said, attorney general. What's that like for the father?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, it makes me exceedingly proud. But also you find yourself -- I can now understand how my wife and my sister and my mother and my brothers, you know, how they live and die with campaigns relating to me. It's a lot easier to be the candidate than it is to be the person supporting the candidate. But I'm very proud of him. Public service is in his blood.
He has a very successful law firm, doing very well. I kid him. I say, you know, "I wish one of you guys would stay out of public service." My daughter is a social worker. And I was saying, "I should raise somebody who wants to make money so that when they put me in a home, I've got a window with a view." But I'm very proud of him; very proud of him.
MR. SCULLY: Your own family -- brothers, sisters -- how many?
SEN. BIDEN: I have two brothers, one sister. My one brother works in an alcoholic rehab center down in Florida, and my other brother is a businessman in Philadelphia, right across from St. Joseph's University. And my sister Valerie is still my best friend who hangs with me. She lives just across the line, as we say, in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. She has three children but works very closely with me still politically. And so -- and my mom -- my dad passed away, but my mom lives with me. She's 89 years old and still runs the show.
MR. SCULLY: Still commute back and forth to D.C.?
SEN. BIDEN: I still commute back and forth everyday. You know, I know people think I'm crazy. Now I heard some wag point out that I've made close to 7,000 round trips on the Amtrak, and they think, "This guy can't be very bright."
I never intended on doing that. I mean, after I got elected in '72, I thought I was going to -- I actually came down, with the help of my father-in-law, borrowed some money for a down payment for a home here, and several weeks after I got elected, my wife and daughter were killed and my sons were badly injured in an automobile accident, which I was not in. And I started commuting while my sons were recovering from the hospital.
And a commitment I made to then-Senator Mansfield, the chairman of the -- not the chairman, but the majority leader of the United States Senate -- who said, "Look, just give us six months," because I had gone to my governor to say he ought to appoint somebody in my place; I shouldn't be going down to Washington. And God bless old Mike Mansfield, who passed away at age 99, who said, "Look, just give us six months." So I said, "Okay." And I started commuting. Here I am, 33 years later. So much for six months, huh?
MR. SCULLY: Let me ask you about your first wife -- Neilia?
SEN. BIDEN: Neilia, yeah.
MR. SCULLY: When did you meet her?
SEN. BIDEN: I met her on spring vacation. I had $89 in my tax return from summer employment. I got in the car with a bunch of guys, one of whom is a great guy; he's still around as a prominent banker in Delaware and now runs a charitable fund. We got down to one of the summer places. And I'd never been in a plane before. For 25 bucks you could get in a plane and fly to a place called Bermuda -- I mean, excuse me, Nassau. And so we got on a plane called Caribe Air for 25 bucks and went over.
I met her, and she was down on spring break from Syracuse University with a couple of girlfriends. I met her and fell in love with her, literally.
I mean, I know it sounds stupid, but I really did. I knew after the second day being down there with her I was going to marry her. And we saw each other from that time on. That's why I went to Syracuse University Law School. She was up that way, up in Skaneateles, New York, one of the Finger Lakes.
MR. SCULLY: You were married in 1966?
SEN. BIDEN: I was married in 1966 -- no, '67. And I was at the end of my first year in law school. But we had met back in '64, and she passed away December '72.
MR. SCULLY: Three children.
SEN. BIDEN: Three children; lost one, lost my little girl. My boys, Beau Biden, who is Joseph III -- we call him Beau -- was almost four years old. My son Hunter, who was a year and a day younger, was three years old. And my little girl was 13 months old.
MR. SCULLY: What happened?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, they were Christmas shopping, heading back toward my home in the station wagon; no one knows for certain what happened, but pulled out of an intersection in a semi-rural part of our state, a place called Hockessin, Delaware. A tractor trailer coming down a hill broadsided them. I never, quite frankly, wanted to know; I didn't want to pursue if anybody had made a mistake or whatever.
They got broad-sided. My wife and daughter were on one side of the car and they were killed immediately. My two boys were on the other side of the car, and thank God for my volunteer firemen. They used the jaws of life to get my sons out, saved their lives. And it's a funny thing. My whole career is sort of -- I owe the volunteer firemen in our state a big deal. They saved my life. They saved my home in a fire. They're just incredible people.
But at any rate -- and that happened December 18th. My sons were very badly injured. My son Beau was in a body cast, ankles to neck, both arms, both legs, for a long time; fully recovered, thank God. And my other son, Hunter, had a fractured skull, was banged up as well, but he recovered fully. And they're both grown men that I'm very proud of.
MR. SCULLY: Where were you that day?
SEN. BIDEN: I was down here in Washington, the first time I had come down. It was a Monday. I came down here, using Senator Byrd's office, interviewing prospective staff. And I got the call while I was doing that, and they had some young person call me and say, "There's a slight accident." And the young woman calling me, a volunteer in the campaign, from the campaign headquarters, thought it was a slight accident. But I just knew. I said, "She's dead, isn't she?" And this young girl said, "No, no, no, Senator -- no, no." But she was.
And, look, a lot of things have -- there's thousands of -- you've been through a lot of this yourself in your personal life. And we both know there's tens of thousands of people who have been through what you and I have been through without the kind of support you and I have had. But it does make you realize how many truly courageous people there are out there. I mean, people have gone through -- imagine going through what I went through without the kind of family I had helping me.
The accident occurred. I went to stay at the hospital. I came home. My brother-in-law is a very successful lawyer, and my sister is my best friend. They'd given up their home and moved into my house. And we have an expression in my family. It comes from -- I know you have a much bigger family than mine, but a big family as well. And it is, "If you have to ask, it's too late."
And so I had this incredible help. My brother Jimmy moved in. And it was a little farmette, sort of, that we lived in, in a barn that we converted to an apartment. He moved in there. And my mother was nearby; my father. But imagine being a woman making, you know, $30,000 a year and having that happen to you and not having family around. It makes you appreciate how incredibly resilient so many people are.
MR. SCULLY: At what point did you decide to stay in the Senate?
SEN. BIDEN: You know, I never made the decision, in a sense. It just kept rolling out. I mean, I owe a lot to a lot of people in the Senate, starting with Senator Mansfield, Senator Hollings, Senator Kennedy, Senator Eagleton, Senator Stevens.
What happened was I got down here and, without my realizing it, they really just kept me busy. Mansfield would have me report to him once a week on some sort of assignment. Looking back on it, he was just taking my pulse. I was a 30-year-old kid, just turned 30. But they put me on important committees, got me in the middle of fights. I mean, I was, I think, the youngest person ever put on the Foreign Relations Committee. Everybody wanted to be on that in those days, you know. They got me engaged in the Judiciary Committee, a very controversial committee. And they just kept me engaged and, you know, kept pulling me in. And in a sense, it was probably the best thing that ever happened to me.
And I had the luxury of being able to go home every night, because I knew, as you know, raising children and coming from a large family, you know, kids can hold an important thought for maybe 12 hours and then it's gone; you miss it. But it's no Ozzie and Harriet stuff, but I'd go home every night, no matter what time. And I still do it, out of force of habit. So when I got up in the morning, they'd have me there. So whatever that thought was, they could tell me.
And, you know, and my mom, who I think you've met, has an expression. I don't know that it's unique to the Irish; I'm sure there's some version of it in every ethnic community. But she said, "Joe, out of everything bad, something good will come if you look hard enough for it." And a lot of good has come. I wouldn't trade it. I'd love that it never happened. But my sons and I are just so tight; it's an incredible bond. And the way that my family was pulled together -- I don't know; it's just I've been really lucky.
MR. SCULLY: Your wife Jill --
SEN. BIDEN: She's incredible.
MR. SCULLY: When did you meet her?
SEN. BIDEN: I met her in 1975, maybe late '74. It was March the 8th, on a blind date. I had given up wanting to go out with anybody. It had been several years since the accident. My brother Frank, God love him -- we kid him. Jewish people have an expression; a yenta is someone who is a matchmaker. And my youngest brother Frank introduced me on a blind date to my wife, and he introduced my brother on a blind date to his wife. And they're both incredible women.
And I met her back then. She was finishing up at the University of Delaware. She's younger than I am. I was 33, almost 34 when I met her, and she was 25. And again -- I know this sounds bizarre -- I just knew. We've been married together now 29 years. She's an absolutely incredible woman. She gave me my life back.
My boys -- there's no "step" anything in our family. When they refer to their mother who was killed, it's "Mommy." When they refer to her, it's "Mom." And I have a beautiful daughter who is a really bright kid who wants to save the world, 25 years old, graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania and working full-time. And so she put my life back together again.
And I know it sounds corny, but we'd been dating for a year and a half, and the boys one morning on their way to school came in, and it was one of these -- you've watched this with your kids -- "You tell him, Beau." "No, you tell him, Hunter." "No, you tell him." I said, "Guys, what is it?" I think it was Hunter who spoke up and said, "Dad, we decided we should marry Jill."
We got married by a Jesuit priest, a friend of my sister's, at the (U.N. ?) chapel up in New York because we didn't want to go through it in Delaware. And our collective families, about 50 people, came. And we've been together since.
MR. SCULLY: We have a family photo, including a couple of grandkids and a daughter-in-law, I believe.
SEN. BIDEN: I have now two daughter-in-laws. That photo -- I don't know which one it is -- that photo is a couple of years old. That was taken on our property. We have a little pond. And the one on the right is my son Hunter, who's a lawyer here in town, and he has his number two grandchild -- my number two grandchild on his lap. But since then it's grown.
The beautiful young woman on the left is my daughter, and the one in the back is my oldest granddaughter, and the one on the right is my son Hunter's wife, a Chicago girl who is like my daughter. But meantime, my son Beau was married and he has two children. So we now have four granddaughters, two daughters-in-law and one grandson who just arrived. And the great thing about granddaughters is they always love their pop. No matter what age, they always love their grandfather. It's wonderful.
MR. SCULLY: Having gone through everything in the early to mid '70s, did you learn anything about Joe Biden?
SEN. BIDEN: Yeah, I think I did. I hope I did. I learned a lot. People think I should say, "Well, I learned the value of family." Well, it's presumptuous of me to say -- I think you know a little about my family. I think I already knew the value of family. I don't think that changed.
But what I learned was that what my father's life taught me is that my dad used to have an expression: It's not whether you get -- success is not measured by whether you get knocked down; it's by how quickly you get up. And I watched my dad get up repeatedly. My dad always believed that the next day is going to be a better day. No matter how bad today was or how good, tomorrow will be better. And it made me realize that my dad was right, that you just have to get up. You just have to get up. You just have to get up.
And it taught me that I could take more of a punch than I ever thought I could take. And it made me realize what I already knew, but I think it emblazoned it in my mind that the only thing that's really important is the health of your family. And I know -- again, I don't want to be too personal, but I know what you've been through as well. It puts an incredibly high premium on what's important.
You don't have any question -- you don't need to worry about trying to figure out the balance here. It never is a hard decision for me to make -- do I go to the birthday party or do I make an unimportant vote, or do I show up for the school play or do I take advantage of an opportunity that would help me politically? Those are not close calls. I mean, they are simply not close calls.
It's not like, you know, you -- and I'm sure other people who have been through this feel the same way. So it put in perspective, in a sharp, sharp relief, not just overall priorities, but the little things matter. I used to hear people say, my generation -- I'm a lot older than you -- my generation of the '60s would say, "Well you know, it's not the quantity of time; it's the quality." That's malarkey. Every important thing my children have ever said to me has been spontaneous. It's not like, "Well, honey, let's go out and go fishing, and let's talk." So, I mean, it matters. You know, it matters. The quality of time matters too, but it matters just the time.
And so for me it was a God-awful object lesson about the resilience of -- you know, I don't know what your experience was, but mine was that at first I felt guilty. I shouldn't be saying this, I guess. I felt a little guilty that I wanted to stay alive after it all happened, because if you really and truly are differentiated from animals, why this desire to continue to live when the thing that you loved and adored the most in the world is gone? And I used to rationalize to myself and say the only reason I did was because of my two sons.
The truth of the matter is there's something deeper in people than that. My mom has an expression: As long as you're alive, you have an obligation to strive. And you're not dead till you see the face of God. And it made me realize some of these old truisms you hear, the things my parents would say were absolutely true. I mean, we have an obligation to strive, you know. It's part of the human condition. At first I felt guilty about that, you know. And anyway, but it all -- and I've been incredibly lucky. No man deserves two great loves.
MR. SCULLY: Let's talk politics. Why the Senate? Why, at the age of 29, did you decide to run for this job?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I didn't plan on running for the Senate. I had just been elected to the county council. And you know my state a little bit. It's like a miniature Illinois. One county has over 60 percent of the state's population. And I ran because I was part of an effort to, quote, "reform the Democratic Party," to make the Democratic Party in Delaware more like the national Democratic Party than a southern Democratic Party.
And I came back from law school in '68; no law school in Delaware at the time. And I joined this group, reform group, because our Democratic governor had stationed National Guard troops on every corner in Wilmington, Delaware because we were one of the early cities burned down after Dr. King was murdered in '68.
And so I got involved in this group. And the next thing you know, they said, "How about running?" So I ran as a good sport, because no Democrat had won that seat before. Lo and behold, I won. And then guys who I've come to really respect, Republicans, had a very deep bench of young people in those days in Delaware, and they all figured out that I might run someday statewide.
I had no intention to run statewide. I had been elected for four years. And the next thing that happened was they reapportioned me in the decennial census back to a two-year term. (Laughs.) So it put me in a position of, in politics, up or out, you know, because it was a more difficult seat.
And during the same period, the Democrats had gotten wiped out in '70. And they put me on a commission, the Democratic Party, called a renewal commission. I was the young guy on the commission, so I got to turn the lights out and write the report. And in the process of holding hearings all over the state, I met all these Democratic operatives. The next thing I know, they said, "Hey, how about you?"
I was appointed to a group to go find someone to run for the Senate, sort of Cheney-like, you know -- "Find a vice presidential nominee." And one day they said, "How about you?" And I had thought a lot about it by then and I thought I could win. I wouldn't have done it unless I thought I could win. And the next thing I know -- but it's not like I'd planned it.
I love the law. I read these books about me. "Biden knew when he was eight years old he was going to run for the Senate before 30." I could not have run for the Senate had they not reapportioned me. I didn't have any notion of doing that.
MR. SCULLY: How do you make a decision? Whether it's a vote or an issue, what process do you go through before saying, "That's my vote; that's my view"?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, it kind of depends on the issue. Some are sort of pro forma. You just -- they're just automatic in the sense that they're so cut and dry, so clearly fall down on one side or the other that it doesn't take a lot of thinking, because you have a sense of, you know, the kind of stuff that makes you a Democrat or Republican in the first place.
An awful lot of votes are a lot closer. And what I try to do is, and have for years, ask the question whether or not voting one way or another is likely to -- and this may sound strange, but I really mean it -- whether it's likely to -- I kind of view things through a middle-class prism. Maybe I'm a product of my -- when I first got here, I thought of myself -- and I still am, I guess, in many ways -- pretty unsophisticated.
I kind of ran away from -- in my mind, I'm this middle-class kid, you know. But I realize that I kind of view things through that prism, and so I kind of look at it, "How does that affect average people?" whether it's a tax cut, whether it's the notion of going to war or not going to war, who's going to pay, how's it going to work, can we win?
So I try to be pragmatic about it and not ideological about it. And so if it matters and it relates to money, I try to figure out who's going to have to pay, how you pay. If it relates to a matter of philosophy, I try to figure out whether or not it's going to -- is it workable? Does it make sense?
There are some things that are pretty straight in all judgments that I admit I make, that are, I think, like most of us, informed by my faith, informed by the way I was raised. And so it kind of varies on the nature of the issue. But the bottom line is, do I think it's good for the country?
MR. SCULLY: Do you ever find a conflict between your Catholicism and your political beliefs?
SEN. BIDEN: I do. I do; not often, but I do. And I think the most difficult one is the obvious one, abortion. Personally, privately, I have difficulty with the idea of thinking it's, quote, a "choice." The history of the nature of that debate in our church has not morphed but has changed over a thousand years.
It always is viewed by the church as something that is wrong, but there's been gradations whether it was wrong, you know, from venial to mortal sin, as we Catholics say, in the versions of it. But today, probably since Pius IX, it's been pretty clear that it's automatic, moment of conception, by the '20s.
So that, to me, is a very difficult vote. But I find it hard to insist on matters of faith, to impose that version of my view of when the moment of human life begins on society when there's as many decent, honorable people of faith who have a different view as to when that moment is.
But that's the most difficult.
The rest of it I'm pretty well in sync with. The way I was raised, the church I was raised in was like my parents raised me. It was the central animating element of it in the '50s and '60s, and '70s for me in my faith was the abuse of power, the teaching about the abhorrence of the abuse of power, whether that is a woman being struck by a man or a child being struck by an adult or the use of economic power to subjugate people.
And that's how I was raised. That's the church I came out of. That's the church I come out of in terms of civil liberties, civil rights, sound economic policy. So I feel totally consistent with the teachings of my church. And it's one of my avocations is theology. And I don't offer myself as an expert, but it's something I have keen interest in and know a little bit about.
And so I find sort of the view of the social contract between society and man, individuals, as being totally consistent with the teachings of my church.
MR. SCULLY: So based on that, who do you think are the great thinkers of our time or in our history -- politically, religiously, philosophically?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I'm kind of a product, on the religious side of the equation, of Aquinas, St. Thomas Aquinas and his seminal work, Summa Theologica. You know, he raised very difficult questions and acknowledged nuance. I think I'm a John the 23rd guy. I think the ecumenical movement of Pope John Paul -- I mean, Pope John -- was kind of the core of the church that I -- our church has always had debates. I mean, we've always -- I know most non-Catholics may look at us and say, "What, these guys are" -- but we've always had -- we've gone through periods of intellectual transition.
But I think that, you know, I've found that, on the political side of the equation, I look at leaders -- I don't have any one; I can't say, like John McCain and others, that I have a political hero. I don't have -- I guess I should, but I don't have a political hero. But I admire pieces of the character aspects and the intellectual aspects of various presidents. I admired Robert Kennedy's passion. I admire Franklin Roosevelt's pragmatism. I admire General Eisenhower's sense of balance in his ability to bring people together.
So there's various leaders in American history -- I mean, we've all read a lot of biographies about Abe Lincoln, and he was obviously an incredible political figure. But in recent American political history, I guess I look at people like Robert Kennedy and Franklin Roosevelt. I admired John Kennedy. I never felt quite -- as an Irish-Catholic kid, he always seemed too elegant. I don't know; Robert Kennedy felt more comfortable to me. I can picture Robert Kennedy at my kitchen table, the family I grew up in.
And so there's various political figures that I think brought to the moment an element of their character and intellect that was uniquely suited for that moment. And I think that's kind of how I measure history. I mean, I do think -- you know, that old debate, does the man make history or history make the man? I think it's a little of both. I think man does have great impact on moments in history, but it's finding the right person with the right temperament, quality, background and time.
And my grandfather Finnegan used to always say, "Joe, remember the two things" -- I'm going to make some Irishmen happy. He said, "The Lord takes care of Irishmen who imbibe too much; he always protects them." And he says, "The Lord takes care of America." It's kind of like there's been the right person that's come along at the right time.
And I think this time requires a combination of some of the features of each of the people, the willingness of Lincoln to reach out to his political enemies and bring them in to unite the nation. I think that's badly needed; I think the pragmatism of Franklin Roosevelt and determination, I think, and optimism; and I think the passion of Robert Kennedy. They're all features that are very much in need right now for this country.
MR. SCULLY: Let me come back to that point in a moment, but let me take us back to 1987, when you ran for the president the first time. What did you learn?
SEN. BIDEN: Well, I learned that I was too arrogant. I learned that it's never too late to make up for a mistake. I learned that when you're at that level, every word you say means something. You can't be flip. And I learned that it is a very rough game; that you have to assume that -- I mean, I was so naive, I kind of thought it was the Marquis of Queensbury rules, you know. And as I kid now, I say, "Look, it is kind of tough in presidential politics, but in other countries they shoot you." I mean, here at least you get a pension. I mean, it's not like it's life and death.
But I was very naive about it. And I entered that race the wrong way -- not morally the wrong way -- the wrong way. I never intended on running when the whole thing started. I had a number of people encourage me to do it, and I thought, "Well, you know, look, I'll go out there and I'll get started. And what it will do, at a minimum, it will enhance my clout in the Senate." And maybe, in four or eight years, I'd be in a position -- I was 42 years old. When I went out there, all of a sudden things started catching on fire. I mean, things started moving. We were raising more money than anybody else.
And I found myself viewing it through the wrong prism. The prism was, "Can I beat the other guy? Am I better than the person I'm running against?" as opposed to, "Am I ready to be president of the United States of America?" -- not, "Is the other guy ready?" "Am I ready?" And I think my conduct demonstrated an immaturity that justifiably said I wasn't ready.
MR. SCULLY: So finally, as you look ahead at another possible presidential bid, what is the state of America? Where are we today as a nation?
SEN. BIDEN: I think the character of the nation -- and I know people don't talk about it this way -- but the character of the nation is stronger and more emboldened and possesses more grit than it has at any time probably since World War II. But the leadership of the nation is failing that character.
This administration, God love them -- and look, I'm not one of these guys who thinks that the neocons are a bunch of wackos. These are very bright, patriotic, honorable people. But I think the whole ideological bent of this administration has dug us into a very deep hole, a very deep hole internationally and domestically.
I think they've tilted the playing field against the middle class, the working people of this country, so profoundly, not because they don't care about them but because they have this ideological view that if you shift power to the more powerful, they'll make the right decisions.
I'm vastly oversimplifying it. I don't want to be unfair to them. But, you know, as Clemens (sp) said, "All generalizations are false, including this one." But in the interest of time, I think that's the essence of what's (at play ?). I don't think they respect the judgment of average Americans. They think they're not capable of stepping up to it.
And internationally, this idea of leveraging power -- we're at the apex of our physical power, and the way to prevent wars in the future is to use that power, and use it in the face of the moral disapprobation of the world has been a disaster. I think we're weaker, relatively speaking, than we have been in three decades. I think we are less respected than we have been in 100 years. I think we are in a position where it's not our power they doubt; it's our judgment they doubt. And we've squandered our value set. Our values are the thing that have made us different.
You know, as you travel around the world, you know, and you meet these people, particularly in Europe and even now in the Asian capitals, who kind of look at us as naive, but guess what: They need our naivete and optimism. They are worried we're losing that. It worries them, because even though they make fun of us, they've looked to us. And it's our values. It's our values. And they've kind of squandered them.
It's like the president has a quiver of arrows in the conduct of the foreign policy of our nation, and the president has only pulled one out -- military power. The rest he's let atrophy there. And it's our values that have changed the world. Military force has been necessary to bring down the Berlin Wall, but it wasn't sufficient. It was our ideas, our values, what we stood for, what we spoke about, what we spoke to. And we have taken what some people call that soft power and we have just taken it off the table, and we're paying a terrible, terrible, terrible price for it.
I tell a bad joke when I try and explain it to people. I say, you know, that it's not -- when I talk about judgment as I go around the world -- and I've had the advantage of doing that, being a senior Democrat for a long time on foreign policy -- I say it's like that coach I had at the University of Delaware, my freshman year baseball coach. And he told the joke about the centerfielder, star centerfielder. I changed the name; the star centerfielder, George.
In the first two innings, George makes four errors and the coach calls him out and he says, "Scully, you're in." And Scully goes out and the first pitch, a routine fly ball to Scully, hits his glove and he drops it. And the coach goes nuts, calls timeout and calls Scully in as he crosses the third base line. He grabs you by the shirt and he says, "Scully, what's the matter with you?" Scully looks at the coach and says, "Hey, coach, George screwed up centerfield so badly, no one can play it."
The truth is, rightly or wrongly, the bulk of the world leaders think we have screwed up the international arena so badly, they're unwilling to play with us on it. And we need them. Every single existential threat to the United States that your kids will be writing about in their senior thesis 20 years from now, not one of them lends itself to a mere military solution. It needs much more. And we have sort of taken all those other items off the table.
MR. SCULLY: Senator Joe Biden, thank you.
SEN. BIDEN: Thank you.