Joe Biden's Earliest Days in the Senate as Revealed in a 1974 Interview: Crass and Venal, Using His Office for Monetary Gain

Democratic National Convention via AP


The National Review has unearthed an interview of newly-elected Joe Biden by Kitty Kelly, published in Washingtonian Magazine on June 1, 1974.

Biden’s comments on a variety of subjects during that interview — granted it was 1974 when he was only 31 — are not only cringe-worthy, in some cases they are contemptible.


One thing that cannot be missed — again a reflection of a bygone era — is the degree to which Biden focused on income, wealth, and status as things that he felt entitled to by virtue of his election to the Senate.

The simple reality is that Joe Biden had long been considered the clown of the Senate until Barack Obama selected him to be his Vice Presidential running mate in 2008.  But for Obama, the fact that Biden was not taken seriously by anyone in Washington as a serious actor was a virtue, not a bug when it came to Biden. Obama asked for only two things from Biden — first, that he help with communications with the Old Bulls in the Senate who Biden had served with for 36 years; and second that Biden not be a “threat” as an independent power center in the Administration.  Obama wanted someone the complete opposite of Dick Cheney when it came to a Vice President.  Joe Biden was perfect for that role — as his 36-year long audition in the Senate and two pathetic efforts to run for President proved.

As is widely known now, Joe Biden’s first wife, Neilia, and his infant daughter were killed in a car accident not long after he was first elected to the Senate in November 1972.  That fact, combined with Biden being the youngest member of the Senate and a father to two small boys, gave Biden a level of notoriety uncommon to his status as being a first-term Senator from a small state.

That notoriety accounted for the high profile nature of this particular interview in the august publication at the time in 1974. From that article, here are some comments that Kelly reported Biden having said:


Biden says he no longer allows himself the luxury of long-range planning, but he enjoys the prestige of being a Senator and seems committed to finishing his six-year term. In fact, he says he might consider running for President. “My wife always wanted me to be on the Supreme Court,” he says. “But while I know I can be a good Senator, and I know I can be a good President… I know I could have easily made the White House with Neilia. And my family still expects me to be there one of these days. With them behind me anything can happen.”

Their marriage was perfect. Their children were beautiful. And they almost lived happily ever after. “Neilia was my very best friend, my greatest ally, my sensuous lover. The longer we lived together the more we enjoyed everything from sex to sports…

“My wife was the brains behind my campaign. I would never have made it here without her… I’m smart but Neilia was ten times smarter. And she had the best political sense of anybody in the world.  At first she didn’t want me to run for the Senate…. At first she stayed at home with the kids while I campaigned but that didn’t work out because I’d come back too tired to talk to her. I might satisfy her in bed but I didn’t have much time for anything else.

This is a United States Senator talking about his deceased wife.

He defines politics as power. “And, whether you like it or not, young lady,” he says, leaning over his desk to shake a finger at me, “us cruddy politicians can take away that First Amendment of yours if we want to.”

On the way over to the Capitol he channels the conversation away from politics, talking about his family: “This is really a big deal for them. I’m the only Senator any of us have ever known. We never even knew anyone who knew a Senator before. At first my dad tried to talk me into running for governor but I told him I didn’t want to be a damn old administrator

In the “Senators Only” elevator he says hello to several colleagues…. Turning to Senator Thomas Eagleton, he says, “Be careful, Tom. Ms. Kelley’s with the press and she’s here to check out those rumors about your marriage bust-up.” Eagleton smoothly changes the subject as we walk back to the office. Biden tells him a joke with an anti-semitic punchline and asks that it be off the record.

“I do indeed want to get married again. I hate the image of the gay, young bachelor about town. That’s just not my style. I am not a womanizer. I would like very much to fall in love and be married again because basically I am a family man. I want to find a woman to adore me again.

Senator Biden’s friends say he is looking for more than a wife and mother. “He also needs to find a First Lady,” says one, “a woman who enjoys politics and will help him get to the White House. I don’t know if he’ll end up marrying Francie Barnard but I do know that the woman he marries will he as rich and as pretty as she is.”


That last line came from a friend, but that’s not something that a friend says unless they heard that same sentiment come from Biden’s own mouth.  “As rich and pretty as she is” — prime qualifications, which Biden makes clear in the next segment of the interview.

The Senator shows a healthy respect for money: “Politics is a damn expensive business. I had one hell of a time trying to raise money as a candidate. I had to put a second mortgage on my house to get that campaign started, and I ended up spending over $300,000 to get elected….

He feels the indignity is compounded by the temptation to sell out to big business or big labor for financial help, and says it’s almost impossible for a candidate to remain true to his conscience in this situation. He admits that more than once he was tempted to compromise to get campaign money. “I probably would have if it hadn’t been for the ramrod character of my Scotch Presbyterian wife,” he say’s. “I am not a rich man. And my family does not have money. If I sold every thing I own, including my house and cars, I could probably’ scratch up S200,000, but that’s nothing compared to most of the guys in the Senate.”

Unlike most other senators, Biden makes no bones about saving he is underpaid. ….“I dont know about the rest of you but I am worth a lot more than my salary of $42,500 a year in this body. It seems to me that we should flat out tell the American people we are worth our salt.”

In 2008, the New York Times did a profile on Biden’s financial life taking into consideration he had earned only a public servant’s salary for 36 years.  But there was a reason that along the way he picked up the mocking title “Senator of MBNA”, a credit card issuing company based in Deleware.


Mr. Biden certainly can trace his roots to the working-class neighborhoods of Scranton, Pa., and Claymont, Del., where he was raised. But these days, his kitchen table can be found in a 6,800-square-foot custom-built colonial-style house on four lakefront acres, a property worth close to $3 million.

As a secure incumbent who has rarely faced serious competition during 35 years in the Senate, Mr. Biden has been able to dip into his campaign treasury to spend thousands of dollars on home landscaping and some of his Amtrak travel between Wilmington, Del., where he lives, and Washington. And the acquisition of his waterfront property a decade ago involved wealthy businessmen and campaign supporters, some of them bankers with an interest in legislation before the Senate, who bought his old house for top dollar, sold him four acres at cost and lent him $500,000 to build his new home.

Mr. Biden’s campaign said the payments to tree trimmers and lawn services, typically totaling a few thousand dollars a year, were permissible because they were tied to political events at his home….


Mr. Biden previously lived for 21 years in a 10,000-square-foot former DuPont mansion in Greenville, which he bought in 1975 for $185,000 after learning it was slated for demolition.

After extensive renovations, he sold it in February 1996, through word of mouth, to John R. Cochran III, the vice chairman of MBNA, one of the nation’s largest credit card companies. He agreed to pay Mr. Biden’s full asking price, $1.2 million. MBNA reimbursed Mr. Cochran for a loss he took on the sale of his old home, according to a 1997 securities filing, which said the company requested that he move to Delaware from Maryland.


The real estate deal was just one facet of a close relationship between Mr. Biden and MBNA, which donated more than $200,000 to his campaigns. The Delaware-based company gave a job to Mr. Biden’s son Hunter; flew Senator Biden and his wife to the Maine coast, where Mr. Biden spoke at a company retreat.


Does Joe Biden really believe anything, or is politics all a process of performance art and showmanship?  He seemed to gravitate towards the latter view in the Kitty Kelly interview:

Senator Biden doesn’t believe issues make much difference in an election—personality and presentation are the key. He said as much the night he addressed the Democratic Forum, a small group of Washington liberals who meet with politicians on a regular basis. “I don’t think the issues mean a great deal in terms of whether you win or lose. I think the issues are merely a vehicle to portray your intellectual capacity to the voters . . . a vehicle by which the voters will determine your honesty and candor. The central issue of my campaign—and I used all the issues from busing to the war to the economy, crime, and prison reform—was to convince the people that I was intelligent and to convince them that I was honest.


[N]o one in that audience doubted that Senator Biden would be coming back to them in a few years as a Presidential contender. “He really put on quite a show,” said one man after the speech. “He won the audience over by being so open. I’m not sure he doesn’t use candor as a calculated device. It’s probably more deliberate than spontaneous. But it works. His performance is so professionally orchestrated it seems natural and sincere. He knows he looks good and he knows he sounds good, and I must admit, compared to the rest of those tired old hacks on Capitol Hill, he is the best and brightest hope we have right now. I’d vote for him for President.”


Joe Biden embodies all the worst traits of the professional political class that came of age after Nixon. He’s the perfect embodiment of everything Donald Trump’s first campaign was about — throwing them out that is.


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