Tuesday, February 25, 2014

the last book I ever read (Promises to Keep by Joe Biden, excerpt six)

from Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics by Joe Biden:

When I started the University of Delaware in the fall of 1961 and had to declare a major, I chose the subjects that interested me: political science and history. But my plan was to go to law school. I got the idea in the library at Archmere in the spring of 1960 when John F. Kennedy, junior senator from Massachusetts, was heading toward the Democratic presidential nomination. If he made it, he’d be the first Catholic nominated since Al Smith, and while plenty of people said Americans would never elect a Catholic, Kennedy was undeterred. “I refuse to believe that I was denied the right to be president the day I was baptized,” he told a crowd just before he won a decisive victory in the West Virginia primary. My Irish mom was thrilled.

It’s not like the Kennedys had a lot in common with the Bidens. Kennedy’s father was one of the richest and best-known men in the country. I’d seen the pictures. I knew Hyannisport didn’t look much like Mayfield. Senator Kennedy appealed to me in spite of his money. My family never associated with the notion that good works assure a good life. We were always skeptical of the old Calvinistic saw that the righteous are rewarded with earthly spoils.

Kennedy’s grace and confidence, his beautiful wife, and his perfect children were not what captivated me, either. That seemed normal. It wasn’t his youth or the vigor he projected. It wasn’t even the novelty of his ideas. In fact, the thing that struck me about his inaugural address in January 1961 was not the newness of the ideas but how much those ideas rhymed with the lessons I’d learned at Saint Paul’s and Holy Rosary and Saint Helena’s and Archmere—and especially in my own home. We have to do good works on earth, Kennedy reminded us, because it is our duty: “With a good conscience our only sure reward,” he said in closing that day, “with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must be truly be our own.”

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