Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at Chancellor’s Lecture


Joe Biden speaks at Vanderbilt April 10, 2018.

Sam Zern and Emily Gonçalves

Vice President Joe Biden came to Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium on April 10 to share his perspective on American politics with Chancellor Zeppos at the sold-out Chancellor’s Lecture Series. Biden previously represented Delaware as a U.S. Senator from 1973 to 2009, during which time he introduced the 1994 Violence Against Women Act and contributed substantially to foreign policy issues. Biden went on to work alongside President Barack Obama as the 47th Vice President of the U.S. from 2009 to 2017. He continues to advocate for issues such as eliminating violence against women through his involvement with “It’s On Us” and working to address the concerns of the American middle class.

Biden’s conversation centered around the hyperpolarization of political parties that he has seen develop over his decades long career in politics. He emphasized the need for a return to American values of unity and hope, which he said will allow the country to “own the 21st century.”

In particular, he blamed unchecked campaign contributions and gerrymandering for the inability to come together across party lines and make compromise.

“No Republican worries about getting beat from the left, only the right,” Biden said. “No Democrat worries about getting beat from the right, only the left.”

Much of his talk drew upon stories from his own life. He cited many of his friends on both sides of the aisle, in particular Senator John McCain, and bemoaned the way that politics has moved from the other side being simply the opposition, to them being the enemy. He critiqued political attacks today, explaining how they were now personal instead of ideological and suggesting that people should not aimlessly discredit others.

“All the attacks are about motive, and that’s why virtually nothing gets done,” Biden said. “All politics is personal, you’ve got to get to know the other team.”

While many speculate Biden is preparing for a 2020 presidential run, Biden said that he is not yet in a place where he feels he could give the role the proper care and attention. After losing his son, Beau, former Attorney General of Delaware, in 2015, Biden decided that he wasn’t yet ready or able to focus on a presidential run. While he’s not sure where he’ll be in January of next year, he said that for now he was focused on campaigning for a Democratic congress.

Biden also addressed the university community directly in his remarks regarding the next generation of working class Americans and the pervasive problem of sexual assault on campuses. He criticized the elitism that often comes out of universities, as he sees a lack of respect and thought being given to middle class Americans who are being hurt by widespread technological advancements and an increasing need for higher education in order to maintain job security.

When discussing the future of the Democratic party, Biden suggested that Democrats should not have to choose between its progressive ideals and its attention to the middle class.

“We don’t have to make these choices,” he said. “They’re decent people, and we’ve gotta start talking to them and talk to their fears. Look what your Republican governor did to his state, leading the country in free community college.”

In addition to addressing these issues, Biden spoke substantially about combating sexual assault and gender inequality, particularly among young adults and on college campuses. He shared how during his time in Senate, he and his staff, led by women, did a study of all laws in this nation relating to domestic violence and violence against women, and how they uncovered sexist and unequal language in over 60 laws in American states.

“We have a cultural problem,” said Biden. “It’s built deep into our culture, our European culture. Women are somehow subservient to men and their husbands. It’s not about sex, it’s about power.”

His concluding remarks called on students and young people to be the voice of change. While the young generation is the most progressive, least prejudiced and most educated in history, he said that they are also the least politically engaged. In order to change the system, he said, young people need to get involved.

“That’s how we make new things – we break old things,” Biden said. “There’s no reverence for orthodoxy.”