The Man from Scranton

Joe Biden's mythical blue-collar roots

Joe Biden once got in trouble for plagiarizing a speech and inflating his academic record. So it will not surprise you to find that his famous working-class background turns out to be mythical. But it may surprise you to learn that Biden isn't the one who has trouble with the facts.

In his Wednesday night speech at the Democratic convention, Biden referred to "those of us who grew up in middle-class neighborhoods like Scranton and Wilmington." In the video preceding his address, he said that the people he knew as a boy didn't regard themselves as working class but as middle class.

So what did the news media report? "Sen. Joseph R. Biden accepted the vice presidential nomination of the Democratic Party with a speech that harkened back to his working-class roots in Scranton," said The Washington Post. The Wall Street Journal informed readers that "Sen. Joe Biden showcased his working-class upbringing." The New York Times said he "spoke frequently, and earnestly, of his blue-collar background."

No, he didn't. In fact, he did just the opposite. Anyone paying attention would have noticed as much. But the legend of Joe Biden, born in a welding shop, dies hard with political reporters, who find it easier to romanticize a gritty, hardscrabble childhood than a conventionally comfortable one.

The facts are there for anyone who wants to look at them. When Joe Biden Sr. died in 2002, his obituary in the News-Journal of Wilmington reported that when he married in 1941, "he was working as a sales representative for Amoco Oil Co. in Harrisburg."

It went on, "Biden also was an executive in a Boston-based company that supplied waterproof sealant for U.S. merchant marine ships built during World War II. After the war, he co-owned an airport and crop-dusting service on Long Island." Upon moving his family to Delaware, the News-Journal said, Biden "worked in the state first as a sales manager for auto dealerships and later in real-estate condominium sales."

Executive, co-owner, and manager? Those titles identify the jobholder as solidly middle class, if not better. They fall in the category of white-collar occupations, not blue-collar.

And Biden Sr. clearly knew the difference. In his book, Promises to Keep, Biden writes that his father was "the most elegantly dressed, perfectly manicured, perfectly tailored car sales manager Wilmington, Del., had ever seen."

Biden notes that he himself could have gone to the best public high school in Delaware. Instead, he enrolled at Archmere Academy, a Catholic prep school that made him think he had "died and gone to Yale." He took a summer job to help pay the steep tuition, which today amounts to $18,450 a year.

That doesn't mean the Bidens never had financial trouble. Biden says they had to move in with his mother's parents after one setback, and he remembers "when the electric company would send a collector to the house."

For nearly a year, the father was reduced to cleaning boilers for a heating company. But middle-class people are not immune to unemployment and bad business deals, and the Bidens regained their footing before long.

So where did he get his working-class reputation? Partly it comes from Biden's streetwise demeanor and his preoccupation with the fact that his family wasn't as well-off as some of the people he knew—which seems to have given him a permanent chip on his shoulder. Partly it comes from his frequent tributes to blue-collar folks, such as the firefighters who took him to the hospital when he suffered an aneurysm.

But mostly it reflects journalists' weakness for simple, vivid narratives. It's easy to write about a statesman who worked his way up from a log cabin. It's easy to write about a leader who came from great wealth. But someone growing up the son of a sales manager is a bit lacking in color and drama.

The errors about Biden bring to mind the recent satirical report from humorist Andy Borowitz: "A member of the U.S. Olympic diving team was disqualified from competition today when it was learned that he did not have a sufficiently compelling human story line to exploit on the NBC telecast of the worldwide sporting event."

Biden just didn't have a sufficiently compelling human story line for a presidential campaign. Luckily, he does now.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  • Elemenope||

    Everything written in a newspaper is true, except when you were there for what they are writing about.

    Doesn't everyone know that?

    If Biden isn't misrepresenting his own past, and some stupid reporters couldn't be bothered to get it right, how is this news?

  • 4 Borders Pundit||

    Well, gee whiz, put the names of the authors of those MSM articles up, will ya?

    Everyone knows the MSM outlets named have problems with accuracy and bias, so it's past time to root out the poor thinkers writing these untruths.

    Outing does seems to be the name of the game these days.

  • Elemenope||

    On an entirely unrelated note (since we *still* don't have a Weekend Thread):

    Hurricane Gustav has all but obliterated the Republican National Convention as such. To the point where they're talking about being reduced to running an impromptu telethon on the convention floor.

    My question is, Christianists often associate unfortunate natural events to the almighty Wrath of God, as an expression of His displeasure for whatever behavior they don't like.

    So, why then, do they not comment ad nauseam on how Gustav is not a divine rebuke to the Republican party?

  • Happy Jack||

    Sales managers are the salt of the earth.

  • ed||

    they're talking about being reduced to running an impromptu telethon

    Another telethon? Won't somebody think of Jerry's Kids™?

  • ||

    divine rebuke and Jerry's kids'...that about sums up this convention....LMAO

  • ||

    wait....what was the article about?! :)

  • ||

    After reading Chapman's column, my thought was that a white collar with a smudge on it from cleaning boilers is almost as good as a blue collar, as if I even give a shit.

  • Elemenope||

    wait....what was the article about?! :)

    It's a slow day at work, and so doing my part to threadjack a Steve Chapman article makes me feel useful.

  • ||

    Dude, blues totally rock. Doesnt get much better.

    Jim Dosh
    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  • ||

    Dad helped Big Oil make profits?

  • ||

    Biden's streetwise demeanor

    *?*

  • ||

    As long as we're threadjacking Chapman (and why wouldn't we?), go look at what Andrew Sullivan has to say about the Palin decision. He's distraught.

  • ||

    The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post. Not just those outlets in their entirety, but their top-shelf political reporters. These are "the Villagers," the DC cocktail party circuit who think that middle class means a McMansion instead of an actual mansion.

    Using the appellations "blue collar" or "working class" to describe Joe Biden's self-proclaimed middle class upbringing reminds me of the Lakewood, Ohio case, where the well-kept homes in the neighborhood were declared blighted because they had detached garages, and window air conditioners instead of central air.

  • Elemenope||

    He's distraught.

    I'm a fairly regular Dish reader, and I've got to say, that there is the understatement of...well, ever.

  • ||

    reminds me of the Lakewood, Ohio case, where the well-kept homes in the neighborhood were declared blighted because they had detached garages, and window air conditioners instead of central air.

    joe, do you know the general atmosphere of Lakewood? Let's just say that any house that doesn't have Judy Garland and Cher painted on it might be considered "blighted".

    Just sayin'...those people have good taste (except for the Cher part).

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    But mostly it reflects journalists' weakness for simple, vivid narratives.

    Like, say, the simple, vivid narrative of 18 year old drinkers' "disproportionate tendency to abuse ... to the peril of innocent bystanders"?

  • jkp||

    Thank god. Another abysmal Chapman article to remind me of why I let my REASON subscription lapse.

    It is also my belief that Matt Welch should be fired.

  • ||

    Chapman is an idiot. I couldn't care less about Biden, but nitpicking over whether the guy was lower-middle-class or slightly-higher-lower-upper-middle-something-class is so dumb that I'm getting a headache right now, and it's not just from the hangover.

  • Elemenope||

    Epi --

    What the fuck did you do, READ THE ARTICLE?

    Are you crazy?

  • Elemenope||

    D.A. with the 'hypocrisy' win. Chapman can take his media criticism and stick it somewhere out of sight.

  • ||

    It is also my belief that Matt Welch should be fired.

    Could this have anything to do with his refusal to bow down at the Altar of Maverickiness?

  • ||

    It is also my belief that Matt Welch should be fired.

    As soon as McCain takes office Welch is dead, so you'll get your wish.

    What the fuck did you do, READ THE ARTICLE?

    I told you, I have a hangover. I wasn't thinking straight.

  • ron paul is middle class||

    reason sucks

  • Normal Democrat||

    Jesus Christ, is it all about personal narratives and life stories? I can see how those are important to People Magazine and free markets, but shouldn't the issues matter more to reason and free minds? The staff posts are getting as moronic as the drivel of the losers who respond to them.

  • Observer||

    According to the Dems, America is now a third-world country. Every homeowner has lost or is about to lose his dwelling, no one has a job, gas is $6 a gallon and bread is $10 a loaf, when you can find it. Citizens are leaving by the millions for Mexico, as all the jobs have been exported. There's only one man who can preside over the End Times. You know who.

  • Elemenope||

    The staff posts are getting as moronic as the drivel of the losers who respond to them.

    You just made yourself an author of moronic drivel.

    Congratulations, "Normal Democrat". Bertrand Russell just slapped you in the face.

  • Nomal Democrat||

    Elemenope

    Suck my cock.

  • Elemenope||

    Suck my cock.

    He offers me sexual favors. I win!

    No thanks, BTW.

  • ||

    Observer, that was the greatest denunciation of politically-motivated hyperbole ever conceived in the history of human civilization.

    Good job, because it's clear that politically-motivated hyperbole really bothers you. Really. You can tell.

  • Normal Democrat||

    Regulate the market?

    Terrorism's New Structure WSJ

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121883817312745575.html


    The convergence we have now come to anticipate is the convergence of international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction -- of IT and WMD. Even strictly parallel lines, I was taught, meet and cross in infinity. And the paths of IT and WMD are visibly inclined, like the sides of a tapering spire. Their convergence is guaranteed by the simplest of market forces. Marginal costs will fall; and demand will climb.

  • ||

    You know, I have never paid much attention to what defines "middle class" "blue collar" and all that stuff. I've always considered myself "middle class" based on income and lifestyle but never thought much about it.

    With all the attention paid to these terms lately I have done a lot of reading on the internets, links from Wikpedia, articles, studies,etc.

    And it still makes no sense to me. According to some definitions my uncle who makes $100,000 is blue collar and "lower class" because he works with his hands but a secretary or some low level idiot who works in an office and makes 20 grand is white collar middle class.

    Then you have Sarah Palin's husband who has been labeled as "blue collar" but in the same sentence it is acknowledged he made 6 figures in the oil job and owned the fishing ventures.

    All this stuff makes no sense to me.

  • Elemenope||

    Even strictly parallel lines, I was taught, meet and cross in infinity.

    You either misremembered, or the person who taught you Euclidean geometry was a fucking idiot. Parallel lines may only cross in non-Euclidean constructions.

    All this stuff makes no sense to me.

    No kidding. I would propose that the categories be defined as some ratio of gross income to unavoidable expenses. Who knows where to break the categories; I guess I'd define 'poor' as a ratio under 1:1, working class as a ratio equal to or slightly larger than 1:1, middle class as a ratio somewhere between 2:1 and 5:1, and upper class as anything above 5:1.

  • ||

    Jesus Christ, is it all about personal narratives and life stories? I can see how those are important to People Magazine and free markets, but shouldn't the issues matter more to reason and free minds?


    Stereotypically, there is a class of voter that cares more about personal narratives than issues: women. Who are the majority of eligible voters, and who as a rule vote much more liberal than men do. It is not surprising that our liberal media slants its stories to cater to them.

  • Roger Maltz||

    GEE WHIZ THE SMARMINESS OF THESE COMMENTS IS STAGGERING. GO SIT ON SOMETHING, PLEASE.

  • Minion of URKOBOLD||

    ROGER "THE SHRUBBER" MALTZ IS INCORRECT. THE SMARMINESS OF THESE COMMENTS ARE JUST GETTING STARTED.

    AND LAKEWOOD ISN'T AS BAD AS PARMA. BUT THE OLD POOL AT LAKEWOOD HIGH WAS THE SLOWEST WATER IN THE DISTRICT.

    AND BOB IS A TWADDLENOCK WITH THE "LIBRUL MEDIA" BULLSHIT. HE SHALL SIT ON A WRONKLETOAD FOR TWENTY MINUTES.

  • SuprKufr||

    The New York Times. The Wall Street Journal. The Washington Post. Not just those outlets in their entirety, but their top-shelf political reporters. These are "the Villagers," the DC cocktail party circuit who think that middle class means a McMansion instead of an actual mansion.

    Using the appellations "blue collar" or "working class" to describe Joe Biden's self-proclaimed middle class upbringing reminds me of the Lakewood, Ohio case, where the well-kept homes in the neighborhood were declared blighted because they had detached garages, and window air conditioners instead of central air.


    Translation:

    "Yes, it's true that Joe Biden's 'working class narrative' is straight-up bullshit, and it's true that a completely-complicit liberal media is feeding said bullshit to people they condescend to. But it's totally okay to lie if you're doing so for Team Blue, so I'll try to write something that looks astute because I feel compelled to comment, but certainly not about the lying."

    Bonus question: If what joe says is true (that "the Villagers" concept of "middle class" means a McMansion instead of a True(TM) Mansion), then do "the Villagers" know that the dumb-assess who read their shit will misunderstand them when they write "middle class"? If they do, then they're certified liars. If they don't, then they're incredibly stupid. Either way, joe's ham-fisted defense slanders the legacy media, which pleases me immensely. I love you, joe.

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