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Opinion | David Brooks Interviews Joe Biden

First, a social location. What matters is not only how a person sees an issue, but also where he or she sees it from. Biden sees most issues from the vantage of the folks that used to be called “the common man,” the lower-middle- and middle-class Truman Democrats he grew up around.

Second, an acute awareness of the vicissitudes of life. Biden said that his dad once showed him an image of the comic strip Viking, Hagar the Horrible, getting hammered by life and screaming out, “Why Me?!” God answers, “Why Not?” Biden still has that comic strip. “That was my dad,” he added.

Third, an intense focus on human dignity. “I think the Irish most often use the world ‘dignity’ of any other group of people,” Biden said. “I think it’s because when you’ve been deprived of dignity you put a high, high premium on it.” In the white ethnic hierarchies of midcentury America, “To be Irish was to be second class,” Biden recalls. “The English owned the town.”

Out of these three elements emerges a governing philosophy, and subsequently a set of policies, that works strenuously to support people amid the setbacks of life, that offers people good jobs so they can live with dignity, that pushes against the arrogance of wealth.

Another piece of his basic worldview comes from 20th-century Catholic social teaching. He said that his father loved the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, and later in the conversation mentioned that he, too, was guided by Maritain.

Like most of the major figures of Catholic social teaching, Maritain placed great emphasis on social solidarity, the organic interdependence of people and communities. If you’re drenched in Maritain, you believe we have serious responsibilities for one another.

Out of these basic values grows a practical legislative agenda. The White House gave me a long list of various Biden legislative initiatives, showing how long Biden has been championing many of the ideas that are in his current big packages.

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