Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden stopped by Pittsburgh for a private fundraising event on Tuesday at the Omni William Penn Hotel Downtown. It was his latest visit to Pittsburgh since kicking off his 2020 campaign here in April, when he told rally attendees he chose the City because “if [he’s] going to be able to beat Donald Trump in 2020, it’s going to happen here.”
Unlike other 2020 contenders — including Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and recent dropout Beto O’Rourke — Biden hasn’t made the trip to Oakland during his visits to Pittsburgh this semester. But he’s not a stranger to Pitt’s campus. A tour of Biden’s visits to Pitt started almost 45 years ago, when the Pitt Young College Democrats hosted the 33-year-old Delaware senator for a talk on “President vs. Congress” in Benedum Hall.
Many people thought the balance in the “President vs. Congress” power struggle would shift back toward Congress after 1972’s Watergate scandal ended in the resignation of President Richard Nixon, Biden said. But that hadn’t happened.
“We liberals are the ones who gave you a powerful president,” Biden said, “and we are now giving you an impotent Congress.”
He threw in some criticism of the current president — Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford — for good measure.
“He doesn’t have the intellectual capacity of Nixon, but maybe that’s good,” Biden said. “In sum, I don’t think Gerald Ford is an intellectual heavy.”
The next time Biden showed up on campus was in 1983, when it cost $1,944 out of the Student Government Board’s activities budget. This time it was the Jewish student group Masada who hosted his lecture — “The U.S. and Israel: A Relationship Between Two Allies” — as part of its 1983 Israel Week on Campus. And the next time he showed up in the pages of The Pitt News after that, he was running for president.
Biden’s first bid for the presidency was the 1988 campaign. Maybe he would have visited Pitt’s campus, or maybe he wouldn’t have — his campaign was cut short fairly early after he was embarrassed by accusations of plagiarism and embellishing his own accomplishments.
Biden’s gaffes and misspeakings on the 2020 campaign trail have attracted media attention and started, in some cases, a conversation about the proper age for a presidential candidate. But that style of speaking is nothing new for Biden. After launching his campaign in 1987, Biden told at various rallies stories about his status graduating in the top half of his law school class, his three undergraduate degrees and his full-ride undergraduate academic scholarship — all of which turned out to be largely fictionalized. Or, as Biden put it, “my recollection on this was inaccurate.”
Paul Anater, then a Pitt News columnist, now a cooking instructor, wrote a scathing piece on Biden’s memory issues in September 1987. Biden was “officially running for president,” Anater said, but “should be running for cover instead.”
“Joe Biden started out as an appealing candidate,” Anater wrote. “He’s attractive (I still like his teeth), well spoken, somewhat cynical, vague on issues — everything a presidential hopeful is supposed to be. But he ruined it.”
Anater predicted, correctly, that Biden would drop out of the race in the wake of the scandals he faced. When Biden announced on Sept. 23, 1987, that he was leaving the presidential race, The Pitt News ran the story on the front page. The “exaggerated shadow” of his mistakes had begun “to obscure the essence of my candidacy,” Biden told reporters.
“There will be other presidential campaigns, and I’ll be there,” he added.
The editorial board of the time wrote an opinion cautioning against turning the presidential campaign into a “war of attrition,” letting “juicy” personal image controversies obscure policy — though the column was slotted next to a cartoon gently ribbing Biden for his flubs.
Anater ended his 1987 column with a snarky “See you in ’92,” predicting that Biden would make another bid for the presidency four years after his first. But Biden didn’t run for president again until 2008 — when, of course, he ended up losing the Democratic nomination to upstart Sen. Barack Obama, eventually becoming the vice presidential nominee.
Biden only appeared in the pages of The Pitt News shortly after Obama chose Biden as his vice president, when columnist Molly Green examined Biden’s August 2008 horoscope. As a Scorpio, Biden was cautioned that “Sudden changes regarding work and colleagues are apparent. Don’t be too hard on your [running] mate …” — the columnist added the brackets — “… you can help them with difficult projects.”
Biden doesn’t seem to have made any more visits to campus. But according to The Pitt News’ current horoscope expert, Allison Dantinne, he should prepare for a “messy” time on the campaign trail this Scorpio season.
“No one will leave the dinner table [debate stage] with their dignity intact and ego undinged,” she tells Joe Biden, though not explicitly. “Not while you’re around, Scorpio.”