Joe Biden on Being Vice President: ‘Isn’t It a Bitch?’
Vice President Joe Biden came to Cambridge on Thursday to speak at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics, and he didn’t disappoint.
Before Biden stepped on the stage, where he immediately began cracking jokes, begging people to refrain from jumping off the balcony above him, David Ellwood, Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, softened the blow by facetiously informing attendees that the VP is known for his slip of the tongue.
“Once in a while it causes him problems, but it’s part of his appeal,” said Ellwood, padding the reminder with a list of achievements earned by Biden during his time in office.
But not even an advanced warning could keep the hits from coming. As soon as Biden stepped to the mic, where he spoke about foreign politics, immigration reform, the benefits of forming a lasting relationship with the Chinese government, and the administration’s efforts to fight both the Islamic State and the Ebola virus, his distinctive personality traits shined through.
Here’s an abridged version of Biden’s hour-and-a-half long talk at Harvard:
There’s nothing to be scared of:
On the topic of the Islamic State, a group that Biden described as “barbaric” for their treatment of civilians and women, and their attempts at disrupting the lives of Americans and others around the world with blatant threats and the vicious beheadings of innocent people, the Vice President said there was no “existential threat” to our way of life or security.
“You are twice as likely to be struck by lightning as you are to be affected by a terrorist event in the United States,” he said, a statement that may have caught some off guard considering Boston was the epicenter of an isolated attack less than two years ago.
While officials have factored in the idea that another attack could one day occur, Biden said it “will not, cannot, and has no possibility of breaking our will…Americans never stand down.”
He tipped his hat to the GOP:
When a student asked Biden during the question-and-answer portion about the lapse in funding for the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, a government initiative that aims to combat the epidemic, Biden acknowledged the significant cuts, but also recognized the program’s progress. Taking the spotlight off of President Barack Obama’s administration, Biden said praise for PEPFAR should be attributed to former Republican President George W. Bush, who founded the organization in 2003.
“George W. Bush. George W. Bush did this. George W. Bush, a Republican,” said Biden, refusing to give Democrats full credit for the initiative’s efforts. Biden added that some Democrats wanted to strip Bush’s name of any connection with PEPFAR, but he wasn’t having it. “Democrats can be as petty and as mean as any Republican I know, so George Bush deserves the credit.”
He doesn’t really hate being Vice President:
When Sietse Goffard identified himself as Harvard’s student council Vice President, the first words out of Biden’s mouth were, “isn’t it a bitch, that Vice President thing?”
Amid resounding laughter, Biden repeatedly reassured attendees that he was being playful, and that he has no qualms with being second in command. “That was a joke. I’m joking, I’m joking…Best decision I ever made,” he said.
On Stalin and Saudi Arabia:
Biden later tried to comfort a sophomore’s concerns about human rights when he questioned the United States’ partnership with Saudia Arabia in the bombings of Islamic State territory. The student said as with ISIS, there have been recent beheadings in Saudia Arabia, and he wondered why it was OK in the eyes of the government to work alongside them to combat the terrorist group.
Biden told the student that not teaming up with the Middle Eastern country would have been the equivalent of the U.S. refusing to work with Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin to defeat Nazi Germany during World War II.
“We knew he was an S.O.B. from the beginning. We knew. But there’s a thing called self-interest, and it’s overwhelmingly in the interests of everyone—including the Saudis—if we eliminate or do great damage to this perversion, this perverse group called [the Islamic State],” he said.
Biden just wouldn’t leave:
Officials from Harvard kept trying to usher Biden off of the stage to wrap up the discussion, saying the Vice President was on an extremely tight schedule, but Biden rebuffed the claims.
“I don’t want to trespass on your time, but I’ll stay another half hour if you want me to,” he said, to a rousing applause. “Or you guys can leave who have to leave, and I can stay for the folks who have questions, and answer questions.”