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November 7, 2012
The Biden Touch: America's Happy Warrior
By Bill Wetzel
President Obama referred to Vice President Biden as "America's Happy Warrior" in his acceptance speech. A little background to that reference and the life and career of Joe Biden.
Yet again another connection between Barack Obama and poetry. When he called Joe Biden "America's Happy Warrior", in his acceptance speech, he was referencing the poem "Character of the Happy Warrior" by William Wordsworth. The poem was written after the death of British war hero Lord Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar. Lord Nelson was known for his inspirational leadership, basing his style on love rather than authority, something which became known as "The Nelson Touch." Nelson often referenced Shakespeare's "Henry V" referring to his fellow officers as a "band of brothers" and "we happy few" acquiring the trust and respect of his fellow officers and those who served under him.
Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?
--It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:
The term "Happy Warrior" has become a metaphor for a jovial "generous Spirit" who fights for a cause or goes through the tasks of life while exhibiting a variety of admirable, often innocent qualities. It has been used in politics before, notably when Franklin D. Roosevelt used the term while nominating Alfred E. Smith for president at the 1924 Democratic Convention. More recently both Obama and Senator John McCain have referred to the late Ted Kennedy as a "Happy Warrior." http://www.hark.com/clips/pzkwmpkzwq-happy-warrior
But who is "America's Happy Warrior?"
Joe Biden is a character. He has a fun "Uncle Joe" persona that satirists at The Onion and Saturday Night Live have a great time with. He has a goofy side and a propensity for endearing "gaffes" such as when he hugged President Obama and told him that the health care legislation he was about to sign was a "big, f***ing deal." But beneath that persona, there is a serious side to Joe Biden.
In high school his classmates nicknamed him "Joe Impedimenta." "Impedimenta" was a word they learned in Latin class meaning "the baggage that impedes one's progress." He writes in his memoir that "My impedimenta was a stutter." The stutter was bad enough that his freshman year he got an exemption from a public speaking requirement. He recalls that all the other students would have to give presentations at a morning assembly except him. He felt shame because everybody knew why he didn't have to do it. As if he were wearing a "dunce cap." But he worked at his speaking skills, began to excel at sports and grow into himself, until his sophomore year he was able to get up and fulfill the public speaking requirement like the other students. He describes that as one of his "proudest accomplishments" in school.
Biden is also a man whose career in the U.S. Senate almost never started because of a horrible car accident that took the life of his first wife, Neilia and their baby daughter and injured his two young sons. The trauma had him contemplating retirement before he even took his seat. But through the mentorship of the Senate majority leader, Mike Mansfield from Montana, he was able endure the tragedy and continue on with his political career. He eventually remarried and with his wife, Jill, he had another daughter. His career in the senate spanned 35 years and in that time he ran for president twice and was instrumental in passing many important bills including the 1994 "Violence Against Women Act" which he wrote. Biden has said that he considers "the Violence Against Women Act the single most significant legislation that I've crafted during my 35-year tenure in the Senate."
Everything I have heard about Joe Biden from people who have met him or know him is that he is a funny, warm, gentle, kind man. He has "The Biden Touch." In this election we had to choose from two imperfect candidates with two imperfect running mates. I am under no delusions about politicians. I have never totally agreed with or trusted one in my life, and I probably never will. But if you contrast Joe Biden's record with the level of policy discourse that is coming from the Republican Party, including his VP opponent, Paul Ryan, who wrote legislation distinguishing between rape and a concept called "forcible rape" in an attempt to limit women's rights, the choice is clear. I'll take the Happy Warrior who wrote the "Violence Against Women Act" over the side that wants to play games with something as serious as rape any day. So as much as I like The Onion's beer swilling, skirt chasing, shirtless, hitchhiking, crazy Uncle Joe caricature, the real Joe Biden, while fun, is also a person of substance. And whether he really is "America's Happy Warrior" or not, I am glad he's still going to be our VP for another four years.
A few useful links:
"Character of the Happy Warrior" By William Wordsworth (full poem)
Joe Biden Joins a Long Line of "Happy Warriors."
Joe Biden's memoir "Promises To Keep"
Submitters Website: http://twitter.com/billthebutcher2
Bill Wetzel is Amskapi Pikuni aka Blackfeet from Montana. He's a former bull rider/wrestler turned writer and a coauthor of the short story collection "The Acorn Gathering." His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from the American Indian Culture & Research Journal, Yellow Medicine Review, Studies In Indian Literatures (SAIL), Hinchas de Poesia, Red Ink Magazine, Literary Orphans and various internet outlets. He is a board member of the Tucson Poetry Festival and the curator for the Stjukshon Indigenous reading series at Casa Libre en la Solana in Tucson, AZ.