Former Vice President Joe Biden told the Brown students in attendance on Dec. 10: “Your generation is the most tolerant, generous, progressive, educated generation in this country’s history… Vote. Volunteer. Run. Your time is now.” Naomy Pedroza

Date December 10, 2018
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Joe Biden on political divisiveness and running for president

In an event organized by the student-run Brown Lecture Board, former Vice President Joe Biden laid out his vision for political change and offered some clues about his plans for 2020.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Will former Vice President Joe Biden run for president in 2020? For now, the answer remains a definite maybe.

“We’re leaning into maybe doing this,” Biden said at Brown University on Monday, Dec. 10, noting that the decision would be based on whether or not it made sense for his family. “But I’m not being coy. We haven’t reached that final decision yet. When we do, we will announce it. I think I can raise the money. I think I can put together a campaign. I think I can do this.”

He said that grief over the 2015 death of his son Beau from brain cancer prevented him from running in the 2016 presidential race — even though Beau had wanted him to do it.

“I made a promise to him that I would stay engaged in all the things I cared about,” Biden said. “I didn’t promise I would run. But I know what he wanted me to do. He made no bones about it.”

Biden’s remarks came during a question-and-answer session following a lecture hosted and managed by the student-run Brown Lecture Board. Yet only a few moments were devoted to the question of his potential presidential bid. In a wide-ranging lecture in front of a packed audience of students in Brown’s Pizzitola Sports Center, Biden argued that the U.S. is experiencing a breakdown of its political system and offered some ideas for how to put the country back on track

Denouncing what he called “naked nationalism” and “phony populism,” he argued that these “new alien strains in politics” currently pose a direct assault to U.S. democracy by promoting an us vs. them clannishness rather than the “shared narrative of freedom and democracy” necessary for the country’s safety and security.

Over the last 10 years, Biden said, there has been “a direct assault on the very political institutions put in place to guarantee that we remain a vibrant democracy.” But he made clear that much of his critique was directed at the current presidential administration.

“Things have only gotten worse in the last 18 months,” he added. “They’ve gotten very bad.”

Americans, he asserted, need to focus on the future to escape the backward-looking “grievance politics” in which both the Democratic and Republican parties are currently engaged — discourse that he said is focused on tearing the other party down rather than addressing actual political issues.

“This breakdown of our political system hasn’t just posed a threat to our democracy and our core values and our standing in the world,” he said. “It’s done something else — it has locked us into a divisive debate over the past.”

To move forward and avoid the gridlock that can ultimately lead to abuse of power by the executive branch, Democrats and Republicans must seek consensus on key issues, Biden said.

“Political parties need to start to talk to one another again… and end this coarsening of American politics,” he said. “We have to rebuild the muscle memory that has allowed us to arrive at consensus in our political system in the past.”

Biden zeroed in on ways that the government could and should respond to issues facing lower-income and middle-class Americans “without punishing any segment of society” — including increased government support for early and higher education, wider access to quality health care, improvements in the nation’s infrastructure, a fairer tax system, and renewable energy investments that will head off the threat of global warming.

“Although there is real reason for concern, there is even greater reason for optimism,” Biden said. “I believe this alt-right phony populism spewed by some of our leaders today has awakened the nation to the dangers of continuing down this path… There is a growing demand across the board to fix our political system.”

The former vice president was invited to speak on campus by the Brown Lecture Board, a student-run, student-funded organization that brings speakers to campus each semester. All aspects of the event were managed by Brown students, who also comprised nearly the entirety of the audience. Biden encouraged them to take the lead in the political process of moving toward a better future.

“This anger and division has to end — and it will — and it depends on all of you,” he said. “Your generation is the most tolerant, generous, progressive, educated generation in this country’s history… Vote. Volunteer. Run. Your time is now.”