When I think of my friend Joe BidenJoe BidenNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump’s reported 0 income tax payments Biden campaign sells ‘I paid more income taxes than Trump’ stickers Trump, Biden have one debate goal: Don’t lose MORE, I do not immediately think of politics. I have a different indelible memory of something devastatingly important that happened one night in my life years ago. It was a terrible loss. While I read of hundreds of thousands of families grieving after losing their loved ones to the coronavirus, I feel their pain, and Joe does as well.
Joe and I served together in the Senate for many years. I recall this night with vivid clarity. It was one of those sessions when the Senate had those evening votes. I was sitting alone in the corner of a room near the Senate floor. I was mourning. Two weeks earlier, my beautiful daughter had died from heart surgery. I was devastated. Losing a child is a nightmare which no parent is prepared to accept. It is agony beyond all emotion.
I was so filled with grief that I did not want to communicate with others. I sat in the far corner of that room near the Senator floor, wondering about whether I would ever be able to overcome this profound sorrow that had gripped me without relent. I stared and thought about whether there was any way that I should or could continue my work in the Senate.
While sitting there alone, I sensed that someone had come by to sit next to me. It was my colleague Joe. He put his hand on my shoulder and then in a low voice he said, “Byron I know what you are going through. I know what you are feeling. I have been there. I have felt what you feel tonight and I know this. Your daughter will live in your heart forever.”
Joe understood what I felt. I knew his words were genuine and came from the heart. His first wife Neilia and their daughter Naomi had been killed in a car accident years before. His words reflected empathy. I firmly believe it is one of his greatest traits and a north star for his character and that of a true leader. Years later, Joe lost his son Beau to brain cancer.
Joe and I talked for a while that night over what losing a loved one meant in our lives. He told me about his faith, his determination to keep fighting, and how he had found ways to continue with purpose for his life. It was a moment that meant so much to me. It helped carry me through.
His wife Jill recently captured this when she said of her husband, “How do you make a broken family whole? The same way which you make a nation whole. With love and understanding, and with small acts of kindness. With bravery and unwavering faith.” His character and deep empathy make Joe skilled to lead the country and restore the soul of our nation. As President Obama has noted, “He is someone whose own life has taught him how to persevere, how to bounce back if you have been knocked down.”
We need Joe to lead more than ever during this extended pandemic. The irresponsible disregard for science and abdication of responsibility from Donald Trump amid this crisis underscores how important it is to have a president of decent character in the White House. Today, over 200,000 Americans have died from coronavirus. I think about how many grieving families might have been spared if Joe were in the White House. Further, unlike this president, I know Joe understands their mourning.
Joe knows how to mount an effective crisis response and will elevate the voices of scientists, public health experts, plus first responders because he has done it before. Joe will be honest and transparent with Americans, in stark contrast to this president, who has admitted to hiding the deadly seriousness of the coronavirus for political gain in Washington.
Joe has a strategy to combat the pandemic that is grounded in science and will enact a national emergency response that saves lives, protects frontline workers, and curbs the spread of the coronavirus. Joe also has empathy that extends to the financial hardships that have resulted from the coronavirus downturn. He has a plan to assist workers, families, and small businesses, which would further stabilize the economy.
I know Joe is a strong leader who would, as president, restore confidence and improve health care for all Americans, not only for those who vote for him. I also think of him as my friend, who in the special moment one night years ago, helped me with the most difficult period of my life.
Byron Dorgan served as a United States senator from North Dakota. He is now senior policy adviser and head of government relations at Arent Fox.