Former Vice President Joe Biden told a journalist in 1974 that “cruddy politicians” like himself could “take away” the First Amendment if they wanted.
The current 2020 Democrat frontrunner made the comments to Washingtonian magazine while being interviewed for a profile published in June 1974. Biden, then only 31-years-old, came to regret the interview, as his penchant for gaffes and insensitive remarks—traits defining later portions of his career—heavily colored the piece. At the time, however, Biden appeared eager to discuss his life as the nation’s youngest senator.
“I am proud to be a politician,” Biden told then-Washingtonian writer Kitty Kelley, who authored the profile. “There is no other walk of life which can do more good for mankind than politics. It influences everything that happens to the American people.”
Biden proceeded, according to Kelley, to lean “over his desk to shake his finger at me” while explaining elected officials like himself had the power to “take away” constitutionally protected rights if they saw fit.
“And, whether you like it or not, young lady,” he said. “Us cruddy politicians can take away that First Amendment of yours if we want to.”
Biden’s remarks to Washingtonian mirror those he made in an address to the City Club of Cleveland, Ohio in May 1973. Although that speech initially drew notice for comments Biden made likely to be offensive to women and his use of racially insensitive language —notably when he lectured about what “was good for the Negro,”– it also provided insight into his views on power and politics.
“We spend a lot of time talking about the United States being a melting pot, well that’s true, but quite frankly I think it’s overrated,” Biden told the City Club. “We’ve been able to move forward because of politics. In my opinion, politics need not necessarily be a dirty word.”
Biden expressed that despite the conventional feeling politics was “dirty,” politicians like him do more good for society than doctors or lawyers or “Indian chiefs.”
“Politics should be the most honorable of professions,” he said. “Those of you who are doctors and lawyers and Indian chiefs in the audience, how can any of you possibly do as much good, if you are very good at what you do, as I can do if I am very good at what I can do?”
‘You can’t,” Biden added. “So the point is, this is where the action is.”
At other points in the speech, Biden declared that politicians were just “as moral,” if not more so, than doctors. He also admitted to taking “great offense” at what he saw as the public’s “perilous” attempt to label anyone in elective office a “thief” or a “crook.”
“I for one also take great offense, at 30-years-old achieving a life’s ambition, to seek the highest elective office, with one exception, in the land and the prestige of that office,” Biden said. “To now be put in the perilous position of being labeled as a ‘thief’ or a ‘crook’ as the rest of those politicians.”
He made similar admissions about “enjoying the prestige of being a senator” to Washingtonian. Those statements, however, did not cause as much of a stir when published as Biden’s unbridled willingness to divulge details of his personal life.
As Biden was a recent widower, having lost both his first wife, Neilia Biden, and 13-month-old daughter in a deadly car accident shortly after his election to the Senate in December 1972, a good deal of the interview was a reminiscence of his life before the tragedy.
“Neilia was my very best friend, my greatest ally, my sensuous lover,” Biden told Kelley. “The longer we lived together the more we enjoyed everything from sex to sports. Most guys don’t really know what I lost because they never knew what I had.”
“Let me show you my favorite picture of her,” Biden said as he held up a photo of his late wife in a bikini. “She had the best body of any woman I ever saw. She looks better than a Playboy bunny, doesn’t she?”
Although opposed to his Senate campaign, Biden said his first wife got involved because he “would come back too tired to talk to her.”
“At first she stayed at home with the kids while I campaigned, but that didn’t work out because I’d come back too tired to talk to her,” Biden said. “I might satisfy her in bed but I didn’t have much time for anything else.”
“That’s when she started campaigning with me and that’s when I started winning,” he added.
Despite bragging to Kelley about his sex-life, Biden told the female journalist he was “really quite conservative” on some political issues.
“My wife said I was the most socially conservative man she had ever known… when it comes to issues like abortion… I’m about as liberal as your grandmother,” Biden said. “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”
When the profile was re-published online in 2015, Biden’s team made a concerted effort to dispute the accuracy of his position regarding Roe vs. Wade. This was only the most recent case in a 40-year-long attempt to discredit the profile. In the past, Biden’s staff has claimed portions of the interview were taken out of context and that Kelley did not respect requests that certain portions be “off-the-record.”
Kelley, who went on to write several bestselling investigative biographies, has stood by the accuracy of her piece, saying “nothing was out of context.”
Biden’s remarks, especially about the ability of “cruddy politicians” to “take away” the First Amendment, come to light as the candidate is attempting to paint the 2020 campaign as a battle for the “soul of America.”
“Folks, look, the fact of the matter is that our core values, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America America is literally at stake—and that’s not hyperbole,” Biden said shortly after announcing his candidacy.
Biden’s campaign did not return requests for comment on this story.