Transcript: Former Vice President Joe Biden’s speech at the Bipartisan Policy Center – Part 2
Part 2 of 5. Partial transcript of former Vice President Joe Biden’s speech accepting the Congressional Patriot Award at the Bipartisan Policy Center on March 1, 2017:
And I went off Jesse Helms saying, “He had no social redeeming value. What’s going on here? How could he how could he be so heartless?” And so on and so forth.
And he sat and he listened to me and he looked at me said “Joe, what would you say if I told you Dot and Jesse Helms in 1969 were sitting in their living room in Raleigh there’s an advertisement before Christmas in the paper, a young man 14 or 15 years old in braces up to his hips – still braces and still crutches – saying ‘All I want for Christmas is for someone to love me and take me home’. So what would you say, Joe, if I told you Jesse and Dot Helms adopted that young man? Yes they did.”
I said, “I feel foolish.”
He said, “Joe I’ve learned something a long time ago it’s always relevant to question another man or woman to judgment in debate and you need not ever make any apology for that. But it’s never relevant to question their motive because you do not know.”
From that moment on, I and the men I’m talking about – and women – never questioned anybody else’s motives. Because once you question the motives you can’t get to go, you can’t get to a place where you can reach an agreement.
Our politics – as the reason the center was set up and Jason you’re doing a heck of a job – it’s become much too negative, too nasty, too petty, too personal, and yes, too partisan.
Compromise has literally become a dirty word.
We don’t just question other people’s judgment. We disagree with them. We question their motivation now. If you don’t agree with me, it’s because you’re the pocket of somebody, or if you don’t agree with me you have been bought off, or if you don’t agree with it’s because you are not a good person.
We don’t know each other anymore.
It’s hard to dislike a woman or man on the other side when you understand their problems. You realize they may have a son or a daughter with a serious health problem or on wife or a husband with breast cancer or colon cancer or that they have struggles at home. It’s hard. It’s hard not to understand them.
We used to travel together.I [unintelligible] guys had only been up to the Senate dining room, the private one, the tables aren’t there anymore. We used to sit down and eat lunch together privately. It’s gone.
No one’s there anymore, George. I went in to see if I catch up with my old and my newer colleagues. There’s lounge chairs there. There’s no tables; it used to be two big tables.
So folks, I guess the point I want to make to you is this and you’ve been standing too long. Unlike any other nation in the world we are uniquely a product of our political institutions and that’s not hyperbole.
You cannot define an American by ethnicity, by their race, by their religion, by their culture from which they come. You cannot do it. It’s not possible.
You can’t even define an American anymore – and will not be able to very surely – as a predominately white European stock nation.
What holds this nation together and always has, has been an intuitive and expressed commitment to the Constitution, to our institutions.
Our institutions are what have held us together – a belief that they can deliver.
And what worries me most – and I never thought I’d have to make this speech or want to make this speech – the almost drawn beat of denigration of the institutional structures that govern us is dangerous.
When you delegitimize the courts, you delegitimize the legislative body. It’s corrosive. And it makes it almost impossible to reach compromise.
We’re a diverse nation, as has been pointed out. We’re great nation.
That to work this democracy in order to be able to function, we have to remember requires consensus at the end of the day. Without consensus, we have chaos.
And it’s not just Joe Biden saying this is; it’s our Constitution.
We have to remind ourselves how important this document is, and I’m not trying to be a Professor Joe Biden who taught constitutional law. I’m talking about the essence of what it is.