VP Biden visits university
Published: Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Updated: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 04:09
Vice President Joe Biden returned to his alma mater Friday to donate his Senatorial papers to the university library and give the inaugural James R. Soles lecture.
Biden was more professor than politician, drawing on more than 20 years of experience teaching constitutional law. One day before the 224th anniversary of Constitution Day, Biden referenced pivotal events and political figures throughout the nation's history, and staunchly defended American politics.
"I stand before you today […] ready and willing to defend politics […] because politics is what those 50 gentlemen, who met 224 years ago, participated in and vindicated," Biden said. "Politics. And it's what, in the end, will continue to make us secure and strong."
Biden drew parallels between fierce debates in American history, from the Andrew Jackson-Thomas Jefferson feud over the merits of a national bank to the passing of the Civil Rights Act, to today's political climate. Each debate, Biden said, always came to the same conclusion.
"In each instance in our history, we have found a way to moderate the extreme reactions that threaten to tear us apart, and found the path to progress," he said.
Biden, who graduated from the university in 1965, was sworn into Congress eight years later. Since the institution's creation in 1789, 1,931 senators have served, and Biden's 32 years of service are surpassed by only 14 other senators.
Before the vice president spoke, University President Patrick Harker discussed the impact of the gift to the university, and noted the importance of Biden's role in recent history.
"I'd like to thank the vice president for this extraordinary donation of his Senate papers—a true abundance of materials that will illuminate decades of U.S. policy and diplomacy, and the vice president's critical role in its development," Harker said. "I can't imagine a collection that would shed more light on this nation's recent past and the dynamic processes of our democracy."
Susan Brynteson, university vice provost and May Morris Director of Libraries, discussed the main impact of Biden's donation after Harker finished speaking.
"The priceless value of the gift of Joe Biden's senatorial papers is that the collections as a whole will shed light on the power of personal bonds and leadership qualities, and how these forces work in such a democratically diverse institution," Brynteson said.
Biden's records include papers, digital media and correspondences. His materials will join those of Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), former Sen. Ted Kaufman (D-Del.) and former Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), among others, in the university library.
Biden said he hopes two things will happen following his donation. First, he joked that scholars will not judge his inability to spell, because he "never thought it a worthy undertaking."
On a more serious note, he said he hopes people continue to respect the Senate.
"I hope years from now that they will walk away not having a higher or lower estimation of me, but believing as I do, that despite all its imperfections, it's still the most deliberate, significant body of governance ever created by the hand of man," he said.
Applause grew as the document making the donation official was passed from Brynteson to Harker, culminating in a standing ovation as Biden's pen touched paper. While signing, Biden joked that "there is no promissory note attached," drawing a laugh from the crowd.
Biden was then introduced by international relations professor Joseph Pika before beginning the first Soles lecture. Though Biden graduated from the university three years before Soles began teaching, the two knew each other well. Soles taught courses in American government and public law until 2002, and died in October 2010. The annual lecture bearing his name focuses on constitution and citizenship.
"Of one thing I am certain—Jim Soles was a believer, as I am. Politics is not a dirty word," Biden said. "At the end of the day, politics is the only way a community can govern itself and realize its goals without disorder."
He focused on the Constitution, and the defining message he took away from his years of senatorial service.
"This is the ultimate lesson of our history, the lesson I took from 36 years as a United States senator," Biden said. "The greatness of our Constitution is the promise that every single voice can be heard. Our government processes are designed to blend those voices together, perhaps not always in harmony, but ultimately in unity."
Biden was joined in the packed Mitchell Hall by many of Delaware's current representatives, including Carper, Gov. Jack Markell and Chris Coons (D-Del.). Biden served with Carper in the Senate and referred to him as "Tommy" throughout the lecture.
"In all the years Tommy and I worked with the governor and previous governors, there was never a harsh word among us. Not one single public harsh word," Biden said, dropping his voice to just above a whisper. "Oh, but the rest of the nation understand the Delaware way. Literally."