The American Promise

We live in the After Times. In the past 2 years we have had to live, act, and respond to the events around us a little differently than before. Political norms that have existed for centuries are now gone, leaving us all to figure out how to deal with this new reality. If I have learned anything about the After Times it is that it is counterproductive to approach my surroundings with a Before Times outlook. That world is dead. I live here now.

When I entered the Mahaffey Theater last night I was ready to hear former Vice President Joe Biden speak about his past, his beliefs, and his current projects. I paid an exorbitant fee to meet and take a picture with him after the show and I was very excited and nervous to shake his hand. Uncle Joe has spoken to my heart ever since I was aware enough of politics to know who he was, so circa 2010. He hails from a poor background, and has refused financial influence in politics, earning him the title of the poorest guy in the Senate. He took public transportation to work. He didn’t live in DC. When Charlie Crist introduced him, he told a story of how Biden offered him a paper bag lunch with his sandwich he packed from home when he heard that Crist hadn’t eaten lunch on the way to a campaign event.

The man just feels like the kind of guy this girl from Maine could sit down and have a cup of coffee with and he wouldn’t be blowing too much smoke in my eyes, you know?

As I sat through his talk, I could hear the typical running for office kinds of themes. Themes that would endear him to women, African Americans, young people, old people, parents. I wasn’t thinking of the After Times in the moment, but it was painfully clear when he was telling a story that could be used as a sound byte in a commercial in this area or that area of the country.

I left his talk a little early to line up for the meet and greet, and I was first in line of the “VIPs.” The V. VIPs went in first – the mayors of Tampa and St. Petersburg among them. I stood there waiting for about 30 minutes, and I had some time to think. I love Joe Biden. I feel like he’s one politician that I can point to and say “he gets it” when it comes to health care and poverty. The fact that he’s not wrapped up with any crazy donors is also a plus, and he doesn’t have a lot of outside influences other than his own foundation. In an election these characteristics would seem refreshing compared to our current reality. No scandals, no money issues, just Uncle Joe bringing the elbow grease and integrity back into government.

When I met him I was so excited. I walked up and shook his hand and he asked if he could give me a hug. I said yes. We took a couple of pictures, and I shook his hand again, thanked him for his time, and wished him luck.

(It bears noting that I began crying at this moment as I was writing this. I think that’s important to share.)

I walked out of the room and picked up a free copy of his book on the way out. I was riding high on the fact that I had just hugged the vice president! Joe Biden smiled at me and talked to me! One of my favorite people spent about one minute in my presence, and for a nobody like me, that’s something to remember. After I posted to social media and called the husband to share, I rode quietly in my car up I-275 heading home and thought about the experience. I wished I could have told him who I was. That I was from Maine, that I was poor, that I was a teacher, and why he meant so much to me.  I wish I had more time to just say something more than “OMG I’M SO EXCITED THANK YOU!”

Here’s the worst part though, and tears are just streaming down my face as I write this. I realized that I don’t want Joe Biden to run. Don’t get me wrong, I would be so excited to vote for him in the primaries, and in the general election everyone’s attitude should be NOT REPUBLICAN no matter what you think of the candidates. So of course if he’s the candidate he has my vote. This is a year to stop the bleeding, not to get exactly what we want.

The one man I could vote for and believe in and know isn’t full of bullshit – he’s an artifact of the Before Times. All of his methods and speeches, they would have worked before, but we live in the After Times. Hearing him speak, hugging him – this all felt like I was saying goodbye, saying thank you for the good times, and this morning I woke up to realize that he mustn’t run. His time is over in politics. Who he is isn’t what this is anymore. He has good work to do. The Biden Foundation has a lot of good causes and things to act on in the world, and there are enough people who remember the Before Times that are willing to hand over their money to help that work happen. When it comes to running for president though, I think that he should step aside and support the younger, more diverse candidates that will be necessary to overthrow this orange nightmare.

This is so difficult for me to say. No one taught me about politics as I was growing up. My college years were isolated and ignorant of world events outside of 9-11. My Arizona/Indiana years were so focused on survival that I didn’t have the mindspace for politics. In my defense, we weren’t really in this all-encompassing 24-hour news cycle yet either, so the evening news usually did it for me. My political intelligence came of age when I dated a political scientist who then became my husband, which meant that I came of age in the Obama era. Yes we can! America was something to believe in!

But that was then, and this is now, and everything is different. Everything is changing or has changed, and meeting Joe Biden showed me how much. If he runs it’ll be like watching an exhibit in a museum about how good men used to run for office in America to take a stand and make a change, animatronic arms creaking as we walk past. I’ve had so much hope ripped from me already, I don’t think I could stomach watching that happen to this man I admire so much.

I am so glad I got to have this experience and I am waiting impatiently for the pictures. It’s a memory that I will have for a long time. I just wish it hadn’t also felt like salt in a wound that hasn’t healed, reminding me of a time when America felt like what I believed she could be, but might never be again.

I love you Uncle Joe, please don’t run for president. Love, Amanda.