The Joe Biden Connection

I didn’t vote for Joe Biden on Super Tuesday, March 3rd.

Since the New Year I had been agonizing over whether to vote for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders at my Los Angeles polling place on that day. I am for Medicare for All. Joe Biden is not. I am for the Green New Deal. Joe Biden is not. I believe that the extraordinarily progressive presidency of Franklin Roosevelt, commencing in 1933, was sparked by the five presidential campaigns in the first two decades of the 20th century by Bernie Sanders’s hero, Eugene Debs. I am plugging away on my second book — about planetary patriotism, pledging allegiance to humanity, and reinventing the United Nations. Joe Biden … well he hasn’t said much about any of that.

But on the night of Super Tuesday, I made up my mind to vote enthusiastically for the former vice president in November. Because on that night, for a good 5 minutes, with hardly anyone else around, I stood maybe 5 feet away from him

And I watched him make a connection.

It was about 5 p.m. Pacific on Super Tuesday when Twitter alerted me that Joe Biden was on track to win a boatload of states, and that in a couple of hours he was going to give a victory speech at the Baldwin Hills Recreation Center in South Los Angeles. I had no plans for the evening other than parking myself in front of MSNBC and watching the results roll in with Steve Kornacki at the big board. So I cancelled that date. And I headed over to see the candidate instead.

This was, without question, the biggest night of the former vice president’s political life. In three presidential runs, dating back to 1988, he had won a grand total of one state. That night he got 9 more – and in a stroke had become the presumptive Democratic nominee. So he spoke that night with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. And he got another boost when a couple of “Let Dairy Die” protesters jumped the stage – only to be shoved aside by Dr. Jill Biden!

After the Bidens headed off I hung around. It was yet another comfortable March evening in Southern California. I chatted with folks about the prospects now for both a Trump defeat and a progressive Biden presidency. A good hour later, I was still milling around, scrolling my phone for the latest results. There weren’t a lot of people left by then, maybe 30, in a parking lot about the size of a basketball court.

He looked at her. He listened to her. And he said to her: “I understand. I lost my wife. I lost my son. And I believe in you.”

But then to my surprise, because I assumed they had long ago departed, the gymnasium door opens up, and here comes Joe Biden! With a phalanx of bright young women and men in suits. All heading straight to an armada of vehicles.

Then a voice rang out. “Mister Joe! Mister Joe!” A 30-something Latinx woman. She was standing outside an aging SUV, tailgate up, a wheelchair entirely filling up the rear compartment, with a skinny, dark-haired boy, maybe 10, apparently nonverbal, sitting crookedly in the back seat.

And she was standing practically right next to me.

The former vice president must have been tired. It was after midnight back in Delaware. He undoubtedly had a gazillion calls and texts to return. (First up? Barack.) And it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t feeling a certain exhilaration he had never before experienced. The Democratic presidential nomination, which he first sought a long third of a century ago, quite suddenly now appeared to be his.

But nevertheless, Joe Biden stopped in his tracks, made a sharp 90 degree turn, and headed straight toward us, with two of the bright young men hot on his heels.

As best I could tell the cameras and reporters were all gone. It was pretty much just the six of us. Mother and son. Candidate and two aides. And me.

She introduced Joe Biden to her son. He leaned in to the backseat and said, “How you doing, champ?” And then the mother and the former vice president stood next to the car, for a good five minutes, and talked. Her English was limited. She had problems. The wheelchair didn’t work right. The school wasn’t giving her son the kind of support he needed. She could never get anyone on the phone at the California Department of Something or Other. She was trying so hard. And she wasn’t going to give up.

I don’t remember everything that Joe Biden said in response. But I do remember that he held both of her hands in his. He looked at her. He listened to her. And he said to her: “I understand. I lost my wife. I lost my son. And I believe in you.”

And then, as he finally turned and headed back toward the armada, he looked over his shoulder and shouted: “I promise I’ll call you.” And sure enough, bright young man stayed a step behind, and exchanged cell numbers with the mom.

And then they jumped in the cars and then they were gone.

My politics haven’t changed since Super Tuesday. My inbox is full of the schemes progressive Democrats are hatching to push President Joe Biden in the direction our party has so demonstrably moved in the past five years. I plan to be part of them.

But since the night of Super Tuesday, I have felt pretty good about the vote I’m going to cast before November 3rd. I’ve never met Joe Biden. He didn’t exchange a single word with me on that night. But as I stood there up close, and watched him connect with this woman, it seemed to me that just possibly, on this night of nights for him, he was thinking, this is why I’m running for president in 2020. This is why I ran for senator in 1972. This struggling but indefatigable woman, and her son, and millions of Americans and Earthlings like her? They are the purpose of my life. 

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