Joe Biden and the emotional demands of the presidency

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Biden in 2012 | Image by Marc Nozell via Flickr (

Biden in 2012 | Image by Marc Nozell via Flickr (

Vice President Joe Biden announced this morning that he will not be running for president in the 2016 election. Speculation had run rampant in recent months that Biden was waiting to see how Hillary Clinton performed in the Democratic debate to decide whether he would enter the race. Clinton performed well, but Biden declined to address whether that was a factor in his decision. Instead, he focused on his record of public service:

“I’ve had the very great good fortune and privilege of being in public service most of my adult life…My whole family–this sounds corny, but we found purpose in public life.” In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Biden told the late-night host that he would “be lying if I said” that he was emotionally ready to pursue the office of President. This is sort of a revolutionary thing for a politician to say! We rarely talk about the emotional demands of the presidency, but they are legion: A good president must be empathetic, authoritative, compassionate, rigorously honest, occasionally angry, and very rarely able to get a long night’s sleep or Netflix and chill with his wife.

To be the president of America takes an emotional toll on the person in office and the people all around him (or her). “I know that’s an emotional decision you have to make,” Colbert told Biden, and Biden’s decision not to enter the race surely has an emotional component. Too often, “emotion” is associated with femininity, with tears and running mascara and Hallmark commercials. But emotions are a human experience not limited by gender, and the decision to run for President is as emotional as it is strategic. Biden operates out of a humility that is rare for politicians, and is able to be honest about his ability (and desire, or lack thereof) to face the overwhelming emotional demands placed on any presidential candidate.

Biden spoke movingly about his late son Beau in this interview with Colbert: “He had such great courage and such great empathy,” the senior Biden said, and went on to talk about how many jobs were offered to Beau that he turned down out of humility. “He abhorred people who had a sense of entitlement. He went the other way.” Like son, like father.