Former Vice President Joe Biden has had a rough start to primary season, finishing fourth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire and second in Nevada. He’s far from the front-runner he had hoped to be at this point. Now it’s onward to South Carolina where he must have a stronger showing when they vote on February 29 to have any chance at the nomination.
Biden has strong support in the Palmetto State, especially among black voters, although he may be losing some of that support to Bernie Sanders and Tom Steyer in recent weeks. Steyer has made particularly big investments in South Carolina, hinging his campaign on making in-roads there.
On Wednesday night during a presidential town hall (yes, another one), the candidates again made their cases directly to voters (and a national audience watching at home). Unlike the previous night’s debate, which featured far too much crosstalk and shouting over one another, candidates were able to break through the noise to take questions directly from the audience. The result was what is probably Joe Biden’s best moment of the campaign thus far.
CNN host Chris Cuomo called on Reverend Anthony Thompson of Emanuel AME church to ask Biden a question. Reverend Thompson’s wife, Myra, was one of nine churchgoers murdered by a white supremacist on June 17, 2015. Reverend Thompson wanted to know, how would Joe Biden use his faith when it comes to decision-making for the nation?
Joe Biden on his faith: “For me, it’s important because it gives me some reason to have hope. And purpose. … It took a long time for me to get to the point to realize that that purpose is the thing that would save me. And it has” #CNNTownHall https://t.co/RkiRzaASCs pic.twitter.com/LVbnhjUfy4
This is the Joe Biden people were hoping to see all along. This is the kind of authenticity that just might put him over-the-top in South Carolina.
Reverend Thompson: Good evening, Vice President Biden. You, along with President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama came to Charleston when this tragedy occurred and you directly and personally came to us, so thank you so much. [applause]
The Emanuel nine tragedy showed that Charleston is separated and divided by racism. Mayor Tecklenburg formed an advisory council pastors with different denominations and face to focus on reconciliation and cross-cultural awareness. He demonstrated his faith and the decision making of our city.
My question is, what is your faith and how would you use your faith in making decisions for our nation?
Vice President Biden: Well, Reverend, I kind of know what it’s like to lose family. And my heart goes out to you. As you may remember, after Barack and Michelle and I were there, and my family, I came back on that Sunday to regular service because I had just lost my son. And I wanted some hope, because what you all did was astounding.
I don’t know whether you all know this. All of those who died, were killed by this white supremacist, they forgave him. They forgave him. The ultimate act of Christian charity. They forgave him. And you know, Reverend, I’m not proselytizing, I happen to be a practicing Catholic, but I went back back to the church because I found particularly the black church, in this case with an AME, it was not an Episcopal church, I found that there’s that famous phrase from Kierkegaard, “faith sees best in the dark.”
I find the one thing it gives me, and I’m not trying to proselytize, I’m not trying to convince you to be—to share my religious views, but for me it’s important because it gives me some reason to have hope and purpose. I’ve learned the only way—I don’t know how you’ve dealt with it, Reverend, but the way I’ve been able to deal with when my wife was killed and my daughter were killed and then my son died, I’ve only been able to deal with it by realizing they’re part of my being.
My son, Beau, was my soul. And what I found was, I had to find purpose, purpose. And what was the purpose? Every day I get up—and I’m sorry to go on. I apologize. But every day I get up, I literally—and not a joke, Reverend, and I think you know this about my boy, that I ask myself, I hope he’s proud of me today, because he asked me when he was dying, promise me, Dad, promise me, Dad, promise me.
He said, I know no one loves me more than you do, Dad, but promise me you’ll stay engaged. He knew I’d take care of the family, but he worried what I would do is I would pull back and go into a shell and not do all the things I’ve done before. It took me a long time to get to the point to realize that that purpose is the thing that would save me. And it has.
And every morning I get up and I say to myself, I give you my word as a Biden, I hope he’s proud of me. I hope he’s proud of me. Because that’s what makes me move on. And the impact that loss had was astounding, and it had to be for you. Remember, afterwards when I went down the next day when I came in that Sunday, and Mayor Riley asked me would I go down with him into Reverend Pinckney’s office.
And one of the things that absolutely blew my mind was he had a picture of he and I on his desk because we had become friends, we had become good acquaintances. And it moved me in a way that I couldn’t quite explain, but what it did, it made me realize that, you know, to forgive is divine here.
What you did, you changed, you changed, you brought down that confederate flag. You’re the ones who changed the attitude in this state in a way that was profound. And I think that’s how it gets done.