Tuesday, March 4, 2014

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

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

What came clear to me as I wrote the speech was very simple: The central lesson I received from the Catholic Church, my Catholic school education, and my own parents had always been the governing force in my political career. To wit, the greatest sins on this earth are committed by people of standing and means who abuse their power. That was a message constantly reinforced in Sunday sermons, in school, and at home. Jesus didn’t spend time with the Pharisees. Jesus hung out with the prostitutes, with the lepers, with the bad guys. That’s what I remembered about my faith. In my own house the lessons about the abuse of power were constant, big and small—from the Nazi party in Germany to the father on our street in Mayfield who chastised his children with a belt. “It takes a small man to hit a small child,” my dad used to say. My father never once raised his hand to any of his children. I remember Mom and Dad talking in our living room about a friend of theirs slapping his wife across the face. My father, who was not given to temper tantrums, was pacing the floor, enraged.

With power and privilege, I was taught, comes a responsibility to treat others with respect and fairness. Generosity is not simply a virtue; it’s a Commandment. And when we see people abusing power, it is our duty to intercede on behalf of their victims. As I worked on that Georgetown speech, I saw that the lessons I had learned growing up had always been the guiding principles of my career in politics, and that the issues that captured my attention had always all related to the abuse of power. From civil rights and voting rights to my interest in putting police on the streets to protect people from violent criminals in their own neighborhoods, to stopping banks from redlining practices that made it nearly impossible for people living in black neighborhoods to get loans, to pushing for federal guidelines that made criminal sentencing more fair and uniform, to fighting violence against children, to the disgust I felt at watching Richard Nixon and J. Edgar Hoover abuse their high offices (I was one of the few senators who voted against naming the FBI building after Hoover), to the fight against the drug cartels of the 1980s, there was a single common thread. As I looked back on my career, it was obvious that what had always animated me was the belief that we should stand up to those who abused power, whether it was political, economic, or physical.

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