Former Vice President Joe Biden knows how to work a crowd. At turns somber and hopeful, self-deprecating and confident, Biden charmed a friendly audience in downtown Los Angeles at the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday night.
Biden spoke with columnist Patt Morrison at the Los Angeles Times Ideas Exchange, touching on grief, Hillary Clinton and the nation’s future as part of a book tour for his new memoir, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose.” The book delved into the death of his son, Beau Biden, and how he ultimately decided not to run for president in 2016.
Biden looked almost bashful when shouts of “President Biden!” came from the audience, and he didn’t talk much about his own presidential ambitions. But he did weigh in on a couple names being floated for the next race.
“Eric Garcetti is smart as hell. He is strategic, and Eric Garcetti understands what the future looks a little bit like,” Biden said of the Los Angeles mayor, before calling Oprah Winfrey an “incredibly bright, decent, appealing person” who needs to gain some foreign policy experience and learn “strategic doctrine” if she wants to be president.
“I’d be happy to be on either one of their tickets,” Biden joked. “I’m a good vice president.”
On a future President Biden
Biden, who has run for president twice, promised, “There will be a Biden president, and the name is likely to be Finnegan Biden,” referring to one of his granddaughters.
Much of Wednesday night’s conversation centered around Biden’s family, who he said pushed him to run for vice president, and he recalled the words his son Beau often said to him before he walked onto a stage: “home base,” a reminder to “remember where you come from.”
On why Hillary Clinton ran
Biden spoke about his decision not to run for president a third time, when he was still reeling from grief over Beau’s death.
He recalled that Clinton visited him to ask whether he would run for president. He already had decided against it, but he didn’t want to tell Clinton because he was afraid it would make it obvious that his son was dying.
Clinton told Biden that she intended to run, he said.
“As she walked to the door, I didn’t feel sorry for her, but I felt a little sad,” Biden said. “She knew how brutal this was going to be. She’d been there before.
“Everybody thinks that Hillary has this overwhelming ambition. … I don’t see her that way,” he said. “I saw her as a woman who saw it was her responsibility to run, a woman who knew if she didn’t run, she’d be letting down millions of women around the world.”
On what the next president needs
Biden had plenty of thoughts about the necessary qualities of the next president. He said the future leader should have:
1. A strategic vision for the nation and its role in the world
2. The ability to convince people that you’re authentic
3. The ability to reach across the aisle and build consensus
4. A vision for how to expand the middle class
He also took a few jabs at President Trump, though he didn’t use Trump’s name. He said he should “grow up” and called some of his tweets and antics “childish” and “dangerous.”
For the millennials in the room
Recalling his mid-20s and the tumult of 1960s assassinations, protests and the civil rights movement, Biden scoffed a bit at the idea that millennials have it bad. “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are,” Biden said. “Give me a break. We decided we were going to change the world, and we did.”
He urged young people to “get involved” in civil rights and environmental issues, and added to loud applause, “It’s wide open. Go out and change it.”
On becoming ‘the Obama whisperer’
Biden may have demurred when it came to talking about his own ambitions in 2020, but he sounded self-assured as he talked about his role as vice president in the Obama White House. He highlighted the dozens of trips he made to Iraq, his work as a White House liaison to Congress and his knack for helping smooth communication between Obama and his Cabinet secretaries.
“I was the person who knew each of the senior Cabinet members better than the president knew them,” Biden said, adding that he soon became known as the “Obama whisperer.”
On threats to democracy
Biden emphasized the need for a free press and pointed to efforts by the far right aimed at “going after the guys in the striped shirts, the referees — the press and the courts.”
Biden warned that undermining democratic institutions has been the “history of the demise” of democracies.
“We need you now more than we ever have before,” he said of the news media, to cheers and applause. “Anybody who thinks democracy is automatic here in America is making a gigantic mistake.”