I first met Senator (“call me Joe”) Biden in 1982. He was standing in the hallway of the Russell Senate Office Building just outside the office of my old family friend and distant cousin, Senator Strom Thurmond. Cud'n Strom was holding court in the lobby of his reception area, surrounded by a bevy of aides (mostly female) and committee secretaries (all female.)
I was in Washington because I had been consulting for a Lowcountry Democrat who was running for Congress. I say he was running for Congress, until he got stopped for speeding on the night of his primary victory party in one of those small, South Carolina “speedtrap” towns (you know the kind.) Well, as it turned out, the speeding was the least of this fellow’s problems. He had celebrated his victory so long and hard that he blew a .27 on the breath-o-lizer machine. Needless to say, that particular campaign was pretty much finished.
I had flown to Washington the day before to meet with the DCCC about securing their help and money to recruit another candidate, because Penn and Schoen’s polling showed this Republican incumbent to be vulnerable. In any case, whenever I came to Washington for any reason, I always stopped by (unannounced) to see Strom.
In a voice that sounded like my grandmother yelling at me from her back porch ("stay out of the flower beds; pick up that nabs wrapper, put the wheelbarrow up and don’t wrap that hose around your brother’s neck!") Strom hollered: "O’Neal get in year! Joe Biden, Sentuh from Del’ware, I’ant ya t’meet my cousin from Greenwood, Sou’ Ca’lina O’Neal Compton. We were in th’Ahmee to’gethuh in 1944. Give the Nazi’s whut-fur all ‘cross France and well into Germ’nee. O’Neal’s a wahr hero-- got lost behind the German lines on Christmas Eve and got his feet frozen in the Battle of the Bulge..."
I tried to catch him before he got too far... "Senator, I’m O’Neal, Junior (remember?)"
He had those big bony hands clapping me on the back and then he slugged me good one right across the shoulder . “Ouch! That one hurt, Senator!"
"Yeah, well I reckon you are aren’t you? You are the spit'n image of your daddy, though. You still a Democrat, Junior??"
“Oh yeah, Yellow Dog like always. Why would I switch? Just because you did?”
"Hmmmph. You and Biden ‘ll get along jus’ fine. He’s one of ‘em too--true believer!"
And so Joe is and ever has been to me: True Blue Joe. I’d have to say, as far as entertaining debates go, that was about the quickest moving, most satisfying one I have watched in years. Good for you, Joe.
I saw Senator Biden a couple of times in person after we met in that hallway outside the Judiciary Chairman’s office thirty years ago. The most surprising occasion was in 2003, was when he delivered the eulogy for his old friend, Strom Thurmond. It was a beautiful tribute to the old man and there weren’t too many dry eyes in the place when he finished either. I’ve often thought of that day and wondered how, with all the powerful Republicans who would have been honored to give that eulogy, Strom picked his Democratic friend, Joe Biden. I think, no I know, it’s because he knew that Joe really loved him and cared about him. So am I surprised or offended when Joe smiles and tells Paul Ryan that he loves him? Not at all. True Blue Joe, that’s what he is.