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Promises to Keep

On Life and Politics

By Joe Biden
19-minute read
Audio available
Promises to Keep by Joe Biden

In Promises to Keep (2007), Joe Biden recounts personal anecdotes from his childhood and long career in politics. He reveals how he was taught by his parents to always follow his convictions, and how he entered politics as an underdog, but quickly built a career in the Senate that spanned four decades. Lastly, he recounts how personal and professional adversity have made him a more resilient and insightful father, husband, and political leader.

  • Voters wanting to know more about one of the US presidential candidates
  • Memoir-lovers who want to learn about the personal life of a remarkable politician
  • Historians interested in how Senate politics has changed over the last four decades

Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee for the presidency in 2020. He represented Delaware for 36 years in the US Senate before serving as vice president of the United States from 2009 to 2017. After leaving the White House, he published the second volume of his autobiography, entitled Promise Me, Dad (2017). Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, do extensive philanthropic work through the Biden Foundation and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.

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Promises to Keep

On Life and Politics

By Joe Biden
  • Read in 19 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 12 key ideas
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Promises to Keep by Joe Biden
Synopsis

In Promises to Keep (2007), Joe Biden recounts personal anecdotes from his childhood and long career in politics. He reveals how he was taught by his parents to always follow his convictions, and how he entered politics as an underdog, but quickly built a career in the Senate that spanned four decades. Lastly, he recounts how personal and professional adversity have made him a more resilient and insightful father, husband, and political leader.

Key idea 1 of 12

Joe Biden’s childhood experiences equipped him well for leadership.

Throughout his childhood, Joe Biden struggled with a bad stutter. When he was nervous, or had to speak up in class, it would creep up on him, trapping the words in his throat and making him burn with shame.

But the young Joe was determined to teach himself how to speak in public. He memorized speeches and poems, and recited them to himself as he stood in front of the mirror. If he stuttered, he simply started again, practicing how to relax the muscles in his face as he spoke.

Remarkably, over time, this stubborn practice began to work. Joe Biden came to love public speaking, and went on to address crowds of thousands with ease.

The key message here is: Joe Biden’s childhood experiences equipped him well for leadership.

Today, Biden credits his stutter for preparing him to become a political leader. It gave him a blueprint for tackling adversity through sheer determination, something which has seen him through countless difficult situations. It also gave him some of the empathy for which he’s so well-known. Biden has never forgotten what it felt like to be bullied and humiliated.

Much of Biden's political philosophy can be traced back to his experiences in childhood, and how his parents taught him to respond. He recalls being humiliated by a nun at school who mocked his stutter, calling him “Mr. Bu-bu-bu-biden.” Joe told his mom what had happened, and she, furious, went straight to the school, threatening to yank off the nun's habit if she did it again. It didn't matter that the nun was a respected figure in the church, Biden's mother judged her on her behavior, and there was nothing she hated more than a bully.

This willingness to stand up to bullies is seen throughout Biden's career, whether in the fight against racial discrimination, in reigning in crooked colleagues, or in opposing foreign dictators. Joe Biden was taught by his parents, and through his Catholic faith, that to serve others was a sacred responsibility, and that those in power must use it to uplift the disenfranchised. Biden was inspired to become a public servant in the broadest sense of the word. Whether as a public defender, senator, or contender for the presidency, his desire has always been to serve his constituents the best way he knows how.

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