‘I assure you there’s still a lot of really decent people left in the Congress in both parties.’
For nearly an hour on March 12, 2017, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke to an audience of innovators at South by Southwest about a topic very close to his heart: cancer.
On May 30, 2015, Biden’s son Beau died from brain cancer. He was just 46 years old.
The former Delaware attorney general, Army veteran, and rising star was diagnosed with the disease less than two years earlier, devastating the Biden family and ultimately leading Joe to forgo a run for the 2016 Democratic nomination for president. While Beau’s passing may have cooled his father’s presidential ambitions, it sparked a laser-focused passion within the patriarch. His charisma, 44 years in public service, and knowledge of Washington bureaucracy made him uniquely qualified to try to help save cancer patients and their families from having to endure heartbreak.
It seems like there’s not a lot Democrats and Republicans can agree on these days. Biden used his SXSW speech to discuss what he called the “only bipartisan thing left in America.”
Cancer doesn’t care whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, rich or poor, black or white, young or old. It’s ruthless, and it’s almost certainly touched all our lives in one way or another. It’s that type of tenacity that makes fighting cancer something worth setting aside political differences for — and it’s been done, even very recently.
On Dec. 13, 2016, President Barack Obama signed the 21st Century Cures Act into law. The bill, which set aside $6.3 billion in funding for things like medical research and drug development, passed the Senate by a vote of 94-5 and the House by 392-26. During his speech, Biden pointed to the bipartisan success of the bill, using it as a sign that, when pressed, we really can come together for the greater good.
“I assure you there’s still a lot of really decent people left in the Congress in both parties,” Biden said, noting that Republican Mitch McConnell even moved to name $1.8 billion of the bill’s funding after Beau.
It’s easy to feel cynical, but Biden offers a bit of much-needed hope for a better world.
“I am optimistic. I’m optimistic about the American people,” he said. “Given half a chance, they’ve never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever let their country down. And the core of the Republicans in the Congress and Democrats are good, decent, honorable people being almost artificially separated by a new kind of partisanship. I’m confident we can break through it. I’m confident it can be done.”
And if he, a man who has seen just how broken Washington can be, still has faith that our elected officials will do the right thing, that’s worth something — isn’t it?
There are things we must be unwilling to postpone. The fight against cancer, a bipartisan effort, is one of them.
Biden ended his speech by invoking President John F. Kennedy:
“He talked about the effort to go to the moon as a commitment the American people had made and that they were ‘unwilling to postpone.’ … I am unwilling to postpone for one day longer the things we can do now to extend people’s lives — and so should you be.”
Let’s be unwilling to postpone that better world.
Watch Biden’s full SXSW speech below: