A lot of us have high hopes for the vice presidential debate tonight; we hope, for example, that Joe Biden punches directly through Paul Ryan’s lean, hairless chest. But around my apartment, the expectations cut both ways. In fact, we’ve come to agree that Biden’s best wishes for my wife’s future, as expressed on a headshot he signed for her way back in 1984, are an accidental burden: The Curse of Biden.
The autographed message, which hangs on our wall, reads in full, “Cecilia — May you grow to be like your parents. — Joe Biden USS ’84.” It’s a pretty nice sentiment, really! And it has an even better subtext: your parents are political donors on the Democratic side, the kind who’d end up with an autographed photo of a senator for their infant daughter; we’d like you to be a liberal-leaning money well, too, if you don’t mind.
Anyone who thinks about the message for more than a moment starts to see the darker implications. Grow to be like your parents? What happened to being yourself? Personally speaking, I love mom and dad dearly, but when I start to sound like them I freeze up in horror. Isn’t it frighteningly plausible that my words, my habits, my worldview are not my own, just passed down in palatable pieces? Have I not, finally, inherited all that I am?
So that’s why I can’t sleep at night: Joe Biden. His note bespeaks a fatalist streak, a recognized failure to progress as a species. We are only our parents; that’s the best we can do. You’re trained to replace the people who came before you, and then you do. The strange thing about it is that Biden’s still so smiley, even knowing this. I like that kind of cheerful insouciance in the executive branch. I may just have to vote for the guy, vote straight Democratic down the line. It’s what my parents would do.