The Importance of Being Earnest

By Alex DiLalla

Vice President Joe Biden is a public figure that I admire as much as a person as a politician. And I think it’s safe to say that’s a feeling many Democrats, as well as a healthy number of our friends across the aisle, share.

Biden’s appearance last week on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert further cemented his standing as the nation’s most authentic political figure. In the course of the interview Colbert asked Biden about the death of his son Beau and the ways in which the Vice President has turned personal tragedy into motivation throughout his career.

The emotional aspects of Biden’s appearance have been covered extensively in reviews and thought pieces. The overwhelming consensus acknowledges the fact that Biden did what he has always done—be himself—but in a uniquely moving and compelling instance of television history with America’s funnyman Stephen Colbert—who himself has suffered great personal loss.

No doubt Biden’s discussion of grief and faith struck a chord with the public, but what I found to be a particularly compelling moment among an interview packed with moving answers, was what the Vice President had to say about his personal ethos of public service.

​“What always confuses me about some folks I’ve worked with is why in ​God’s ​name would you want the job if you couldn’t say what you ​believed? I’m not—there’s nothing noble about this, but ask yourselves the ​question: Would you want a job that, in fact, every day you had to get up and ​you had to modulate what you said and believed?”

Biden’s words hit home, beautifully encapsulating my own intense passion for public service and frustration with politics. As with my admiration for the Vice President himself, I doubt these feelings are unique.

The more involved I get with politics the clearer it becomes the only point of being involved is if I can articulate honestly what I believe and what I want to accomplish.

I admire leaders like Vice President Biden, Senator Paul Wellstone, and Senator Elizabeth Warren who are undeterred by the pressure to say only what is acceptable in the context of a political machine that rewards good behavior.

These leaders remind us that the political figures history remembers most fondly are those whose purpose in being there is to say what they believe and act to realize their ideals. Vice President Biden reminded us all on the Late Show that there are still leaders for whom a political position is the means rather than the end.

In the abstract it seems strange that one might need to express a feeling of strong admiration for both the person and the politician, not because they are mutually exclusive, but rather our own ideal is that they are inseparable. I want my politicians to not only be good public servants but good people.

Of course good people can be flawed people. Good does not mean inhuman. For those fans of the West Wing, you’ll remember Jimmy Smits’ character Matt Santos addressing the Democratic National Convention to accept the Presidential nomination and remind us all through the television screen that good politicians are real people who inspire us to be our best selves—warts and all.

In reality Biden has his flaws like the rest of Washington, like all of us, but still his authenticity shines like a beacon, reminding me that there is a place in politics for those who refuse to be anything less than unabashed about their beliefs. Our democracy needs earnest leaders and citizens who are willing to fight hard and undeterred.

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