I have just finished a surprisingly good read, courtesy of my father. After my brother gave him Promises to Keep, Joseph Biden's autobiography, for Christmas on my suggestion, he recommended it to me in turn. The senator had always been a favorite of his, and now that he is America's vice president, all the more timely.
First, Biden is an amazingly good writer- his narrative holds one's attention from childhood on. Peppering his narrative with humor, lightening many of the dryer disappointments, and has a knack for imagery when appropriate. I am no less impressed by his attitude toward the political life. He argues, contra Jesse Helms when he was making an anti-government ruckus about a congressional pay raise Biden was also unenthusiastic about, that if we desire good politicians, they should have good pay. A very reasonable argument, especially during a time in his life when, so he reports, he had to really stretch his pay as a senator to raise his family. It is natural that most Democrats will hold government in a higher esteem than their counterparts on the Right, but he nonetheless deserves credit for pointing out the absurd disdain many Republicans hold for politicians regardless of circumstances.
Biden irritated me at times. When it was not for his beliefs, as was to be expected, for his failure to explain how he adopted them. Now, he mentions his stance on abortion, a moderate version of the "personally opposed but" position staked out by most Catholic Democrats, several times, briefly noting that he held it as a personal conviction he could not enforce on others. He is likely aware that the Church grounds its defense of the lives of the unborn chiefly in reason and science, with no more divisive pious motivation than Thou shalt not kill, but fine. However, given the detail he gives about, for instance, how lovely the architecture on his high school was, he could have included something about what inclined him to take the liberal view. He grew up in a staunchly Catholic, Irish family, and only has good to say regarding his religious and ethical instruction (pictured is his current church). I would be interested to know why he decided to follow the Democratic party leftward on these moral issues, when many other Catholics, from families which had been Democratic since their immigration, deserted the party for the socially conservative wing emerging in the Grand Old Party. Naturally, a liberal Catholic would not denegrate their upbringing, but was he raised brought up to care only for the social justice aspects of Catholic teaching, or did his beliefs crystallize solely because of his political views, without any input from his Catholic faith?
Another aspect which turned me off was his general attitude toward foreign policy. Though, in the chapters on foreign policy during the presidency of George W. Bush [whom I now miss, thanks to Obama, more than his actions would independently merit], he displays ever more disdain for the neoconservatives. He sometimes calls them "neo-isolationists" for their unilateralism, to which association I take great offence. By contrast, though I can't remember if he ever identifies himself an internationalist, he lumps enough praise on Averell Harriman (pictured) and Colin Powell that he probably would not object to the label. Often, though, despite the marked disagreements about specific issues of policy, the then senator ultimately endorses an outlook similar to the neocon paradigm. For Biden, too, the United States of America fulfills her mission- or her "promise"- by policing the world. Besides that he never questions the neocons' good motives- an admirable practice- he never draws out the similarities in their perspective and his own. In all the chapters on his advocacy of US intervention in Yugoslavia, he never bases his arguments for why his country should get involved on anything but our role as a superpower. While he never dabbles in the democratic messianism the neocons are infamous for, he has a strong sense of American mission, of a course our Nation must take due to its highest ideals and the hopes others place in us. While he certainly displays greater prudence than Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, et al, his beliefs are similar to theirs in that, within their framework, there is no part of the world in which America has no business interfering if its intervention will likely have a positive outcome.
On a separate foreign policy note, his penchant for pragmatism sometimes gets excessive. Though he spend an entire chapter explaining how foolish was our invasion of Iraq, and detailing his efforts to bring Bush to reason, he ultimately voted FOR empowering the president to use force in Iraq, justifying it by saying a strong vote in the affirmative would make assistance by the United Nations Security Council more likely. He even criticizes liberal Democrats who refused to support a more restricted version of the bill as purists, even though he too believed we had no reason to go to war. Is he really proud of this level of crass compromising he attempted? A lot of good all his careful calculations did us in the end!
If a colorful, insightful account of the political life, as experienced by a man who has held elective office since 1973 and who is now second in line for the presidency, interests you, Promises to Keep may also be to your tastes. In the end, Biden interests me despite his liberal internationalism. Indeed, he is not my type of politician. When he contrasts himself to Jesse Helms (as much my type as can be found in America), he gives his initial impression of Helms as his opposite. Whereas Biden concerns himself with expanding freedoms and civil rights, furthering the lofty ideals of the founding, he can only characterize Helms as a demagogue to the white, native Christians, as a man concerned only for his own kind. Perhaps if Biden recognized that Senator Helms, and those like him, can hardly be blamed for defending the communities they love, with all its particularities, from the multiculturalism which threatens them, he would not have been so puzzled when that same love manifested itself by adopting a child with cerebral palsy.
A cool thing happened on Thursday. After two weeks of holding my breath, expecting a Rozen Maiden poster in the mail, the order arrived, but it was the wrong thing. I had accidently put the wrong number, and ended up with this cute Fruits Basket poster. I have heard much good about that manga, but as of yet haven't read any of it. I don't even know who the characters are, but it's cute, so it stays!