Here was Biden the consoler and at the same time the ambitious politician, for what he really meant was that the Kennedys lived on in him. Biden’s biographer Jules Witcover writes of Biden in 1987, early in his campaign for the Democratic primaries, “Casting himself as the next young and rising John F. Kennedy, Irish Catholic Biden told the cheering Iowa Democratic faithful…‘I think 1988 is going to be about 1960.’”1 That, of course, was the year of JFK’s coming. Biden even repeated exactly JFK’s slogan, “Let’s get America moving again.” The ghost of the other dead Kennedy hovered around him too. Of the campaign managers who were trying to shape a grand story for Biden in 1988, Cramer writes:
It wasn’t that they wanted to make Joe into Robert Kennedy…it just happened that Robert Kennedy was important…to the time, to a whole generation. And that was the message: that a whole generation was lost, submerged, driven off from the struggle for a better world, twenty years ago, in ’68, bloody ’68, the Year of the Locust, and the Tet Offensive, the Chicago Convention, and Richard Nixon, and the murders of Martin Luther King and…Bobby KENNEDY! That was the whole fucking point!… That a whole generation had to come back now, that they had to wake up!
There is something eerie in this notion. Biden becomes not just the reembodiment of the dead Kennedys but a kind of political necromancer, calling forth an entire generation that has been wandering in a civic Hades, lost to the world of democratic engagement. He also becomes the man who can imaginatively reverse time, who can take us all back to 1960, back to the beginning of the story so that it can be told again without the blood-soaked pages.
The most important question, though, is what gave Biden the right to make this vast claim? It was not the authority of experience--I was there by the side of our murdered hero. In the two great mass movements of the 1960s, the campaigns against the Vietnam War and for civil rights, Joe Biden was conspicuously not there. There were large protests against the war in Wilmington—he does not seem to have attended any. College deferments saved him from any danger of being drafted for Vietnam.
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