AN OPEN LETTER TO JOE BIDEN
Dear Vice-President Biden,
I’m sure you have many advisors around you, calculating the best way for you to win the presidency. While I have no qualifications in this area, I did watch my father become Governor of California when I was 14 years old and then become president…twice. So, I want to say something to you about anger and authenticity.
In both of the previous Democratic debates, it seemed as if you had decided ahead of time to be angry, to come out all blustery and bold, to interrupt the other candidates and talk over them. I and many other people were confused and wondered, What happened? This isn’t the same man who we see at town halls and in interviews, who exudes empathy and humanity, who knows how to connect with people and move them. To be blunt, anger doesn’t suit you, and even though we have never met, I don’t think that’s who you are.
I think who you are is the man who spoke in raw and open ways about grief with Anderson Cooper in a CNN interview. It was just after the El Paso shooting in 2019, when 22 people died and 24 others were injured. You said it takes a long time to get over the death of a loved one, but you do eventually realize that the one you lost is still with you and always will be. You spoke about how, when your wife and daughter were killed, you were at first angry at God, and you spoke about the people who helped you through the lowest, darkest points. We need someone to help us through right now. People are being gunned down in America. There is too much grief and too many guns. You said in that interview, “Hate can have no safe harbor here.” We need to hear that.
There were many times during my father’s governorship when he bellowed angrily at anti-war protesters, students at Berkeley, and others. When I saw that then, and when I see it now, my reaction is the same – I don’t know who that man was. It seemed to me that he had practiced his fury in the mirror. Or that someone advising him had strongly suggested that anger was the best course of action. When he ran for president, he was the man I recognized – his humor could diffuse any situation, his off-kilter smile drew people to him whether they agreed with him or not.
Might I suggest that you watch the debate between my father and Jimmy Carter, when Carter was trying to bully him intellectually, rattling off statistics and accusations as if he were lecturing a school kid? Four words turned the debate into a victory for my father: “There you go again.” But it was the way he did it, also – gently, with humor, even kindness. George W. Bush did a similar thing with Al Gore when Gore – in a different kind of bullying — walked across the stage and encroached on his space. Bush smiled, cocked his head and said hi to him. Gore looked like a fool.
In your upcoming debate, you don’t have to raise your voice and yell. We will hear you better if you don’t. And if you end up running against Trump, we all know you will be debating a bully. It’s all Donald Trump knows how to do. But bullies can’t get traction in the presence of humanity and empathy. It’s kind of like when they threw water on the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz and she fizzled away. Water is our life blood – so is humanity and decency. Donald Trump doesn’t understand that language, but millions of people do, and are hungry for it.
We have a lot of anger in this country right now. It’s everywhere you turn. But anger always sits on top of something else, usually fear. You understand fear. You have known loss and grief, and the fear that comes with seeing your life ripped apart. Please speak to us from that place. Please aim for our hearts, not our rage. When my father was shot and nearly died, he said he couldn’t be angry at John Hinckley because then he wouldn’t heal. That’s the man I knew. He didn’t need to practice that in the mirror, it’s who he authentically was. We have seen who you authentically are. Please keep showing us that man.