The City Club of Cleveland recently released an archived recording of a May 1973 address then Sen. Joe Biden gave to the city’s popular free speech forum. The recording reveals Biden, who was then a 30-year-old, first-term senator from Delaware, making sexist jokes, using the word “Negro,” and defending his Republican colleagues against criticisms surrounding the Watergate scandal.
According to the City Club of Cleveland, the remarks were delivered on May 18, 1973, just as the Senate was beginning its televised hearings on Watergate. An audio clip of Biden’s address is now available on City Club’s website.
Biden began his speech with several self-deprecating jokes about his lowly position in the U.S. Senate since he was then the youngest senator in office.
“It should be noted and I hope you all are duly impressed with the fact that I am one of the most powerful men in the United States. And you ladies, are you aware of that, just how powerful I am? I am number 100 in seniority and don’t forget it,” Biden said.
“This young lady knows I’m so powerful she wants to get close to me. She just moved right up front here. She probably has one zinger of a question when I’m finished,” he added.
Biden then joked about how he felt “self-conscious” when availing himself of the amenities provided to Senators in their office buildings.
“They’re all appropriately marked. They say ‘Senators only.’ Well, you know, being a 30-year-old upstart I felt a little self-conscious about exercising my senatorial prerogatives and so the first month or so I didn’t use any of them, especially the elevator. Being a man of the people, I rode with the press and you can’t get much lower than riding with the press,” Biden said.
He then turned his attention to the Watergate scandal, which was the focus of most of his speech.
“I don’t think anything has assaulted the system and the fundamental makeup of this country as much as this Watergate thing has,” Biden said. “The only analogy I can think of is a football analogy, and I apologize to you women in the audience for not being able to think of a more appropriate analogy, but they told me here they didn’t want you here anyway. I didn’t expect any women to be here.”
“It should really be made clear, and I mean this from the bottom of my heart: this is not a Republican affair. This is not the Republican Party’s doing, even if only half of it is true or any of it is true. The Republican Party as a party had absolute nothing to do with this,” Biden continued.
He made several similar remarks throughout the speech, and suggested that it would be wrong for Democrats to use Watergate against their Republican opponents.
“So just as it would be wrong, in my opinion, to try to lay the blame for the Watergate on the backs of the Republican Party, it is wrong to blame politicians—those of us who hold elected office for the responsibility of this scandal,” he said.
“You have two senators in this state who I think are absolutely, truly appalled at what’s happening in the Watergate. And for Democrats who will run against them next time around, to try to hang the yoke of Watergate on the back of either of those two honorable men is not only morally wrong, but it’s stupid,” Biden continued.
He said that attendees at a recent Democratic fundraiser he spoke at were “shocked” to hear him “tell them of the virtues of the Republican Party.”
“But if those of you who are active Democrats in the audience are too short-sighted to realize that the demise of the Republican Party means your own demise, that the demise of politicians and political parties means the demise of the system, then one of us is very stupid. Either you or me,” Biden continued.
Biden also spoke about the “honorable” nature of politicians, saying “political institutions” are what “have made this country great.”
“Look on this stage, you have a black man and a white man involved in the system. Our cultural backgrounds are totally different in terms of our ancestry. What ties us together, and he may not want to be tied with me today, are the political institutions that have made this countryAll Posts great,” he said. “In my opinion, politics need not necessarily be a dirty word. Politics should be of the most honorable professions. 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’m very good at what I do? You can’t.”
During the question-and-answer portion of his remarks, Biden was asked about his Senate colleagues from the south and their attitude towards race relations.
“I think the two party system is good for the south, and good for the Negro, good for the black in the south,” Biden responded. “Other than the fact that they still call me boy, I think they’ve changed their minds a bit.”
The full recording can be listened to here.
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Joe Biden” by Marc Nozell. CC BY 2.0.