When he announced in October that he was not going to run for president, Vice President Joe Biden laid out the platform that he wants his party to run on in his absence: stop runaway campaign spending, guarantee child care and four years of college to everyone, avoid unnecessary foreign entanglements.
But his reason for not running was the most compelling part of his story. Biden talked about the grief he and his family were enduring over the death of his son from brain cancer. He said he was waiting for that moment when the mention of Beau Biden’s name would bring a smile to his face before a tear filled his eye. It hasn’t come yet, and we all, especially the Syracuse community, feel his pain.
Watching that Rose Garden press conference got me to imagining what might have happened the night before:
The phone rings in the hotel room where Hillary Clinton is staying. It’s 2 a.m. She puts down her briefing books and takes the call.
“Hillary, it’s Joe. Hope I didn’t wake you.”
“Good to hear from you, Joe. I was just doing some light reading. What can I do for you?”
“Hillary, you know I want the job. Maybe not as much as you do, but I’ve wanted it for longer. And I would like to make a run for it.”
“Sorry to hear that, Joe. This could get nasty.”
“But there’s something I want even more.”
“What’s that, Joe?”
“I want you to be the president that ends cancer.”
“I can’t argue with that.”
“So here’s what’s going to happen. Tomorrow Barack and I will walk out into the Rose Garden. I’ll announce that I am not going to run for president. I’ll lay out the ideas that I think the party should stand for. And I’ll say that I wished that I could have been the president who ended cancer.”
“I appreciate that, Mr. Vice President.”
“Here’s what you’re going to do in return. Sometime after the election, before you’re inaugurated, you are going to announce that you’ve created the post of Cancer Czar, and you’re going to name me to the position. You are going to compare this to Kennedy and the moon shot, and dedicate the nation to eradicating cancer by 2025.”
“Can we do that?”
“Of course we can. We can set the goal, and dedicate ourselves to it. The World Health Organization says we can prevent 30 percent of cancers through lifestyle changes. So education is a big part of that. Look what we’ve done with smoking and sunscreen. And that’s just the beginning.”
“I’m with you so far.”
“We’ve got research going on and treatment options that didn’t exist 10 years ago. And there are more to be found.”
“What’s it going to cost, Joe?”
“That is the question you can’t ask me. That’s your end of the bargain.”
(Confused silence on Clinton’s end until Biden speaks again.)
“Look, around the globe we spend more than a hundred billion dollars every year on cancer care. You can make the case that finding cures and educating for prevention are cost effective, but that’s not why we’re going to do this. Here’s the deal. I won’t contest the nomination. You appoint me the Cancer Czar, and make me one promise.”
“Any time I show up at your door, or call you on the phone, and ask for something, the only answer I want to hear is ‘yes.’”
(More silence on Clinton‘s end until Biden speaks.)
“Do we have a deal?”
“Yes, Mr. Vice President, we have a deal.”
“Great, Madame Secretary. This is going to be even more fun than that night we took out Bin Laden.”
“I thought Barack did that.”
“Sure. Whatever. Who cares about who gets the credit, right?”
“Right” (shared laughter).