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Mike Reyes, aka Mr. Controversy, has considered himself a writer ever since he was a child. He wrote for various school publications from about 1995 until 2006, and currently runs both The Bookish Kind and Mr. Controversy, which is an offshoot of the regular column he wrote in High School. He's also authored several short stories such as "The Devil's Comedian", "The Devil v. George W. Bush", and most recently "Wait Until Tomorrow". He resides in New Jersey. Any inquiries for reprinting, writing services, or general contact, should be forwarded to: michaelreyes72@hotmail.com

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Cannonball Read: Entry 1 – Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, by Joe Biden

For the uninitiated, here's all the background you need. http://www.pajiba.com/cannonball-read.htm Special thanks to Brian Prisco for allowing me, and all the others, to participate in this clusterfuck of literary wonderment. What? You want to sign up? Start here: http://gospelaccordingtoprisco.wordpress.com/choose-your-weapon-the-combatants/

For most of the younger voters out there, not many were familiar with Joe Biden, except for snippets about him running for the Presidency. That ignorance was broken when the news media descended upon him and his family yet again when he was announced as the Vice Presidential candidate for Barack Obama, which lead to news copters, “analysis”, and Neil Cavuto speculating how much his house was worth and whether they forgot Grandma at home or not. In the days and weeks to come, people would learn more about Biden, senator to his home state of Delaware since 1972 and former Presidential hopeful both in the 1988 and 2008 elections. If you were to ask him what the difference was between then and now, he would tell you that in ’88 he had no clue how he’d lead but he knew how to campaign. In 2007, at the end of his memoir “Promises to Keep”, he said as much, but also pointed out that at the time of his writing the book he felt he knew how he’d lead but had no clue how he’d run his campaign.

It is this type of insightful remembrance and candor that make this book a truly great read. The Vice President elect basically covers every square inch he can of his life. From his riches to rags childhood to his courtship of his first wife, Neilia, all the way up to the squabbles in the Bush Administration that defined where we are today in Iraq, the book covers 60+ years in 365 pages. Make no mistake about it, Joe Biden is a natural storyteller, and he’s a great speaker. So good in fact, that it was all the more disappointing to some when he accidentally plagiarized Neil Kinnock’s speech for the Labour Party during his bid for the Democratic Nomination for the 1988 election. Biden is quite apologetic for this in his book, and sets the record as straight as he can with his account of the situation.

Later on, in perhaps the most insightful portion of the book, Senator Biden recounts 9/11 and the days after, in which he and other senators pushed not only to get back to work, but to swiftly act on the threats that America was just waking up to. His portrait of the Bush Administration is that of an administration divided into old school (Colin Powell) and new school (Cheney/Rumsfeld) diplomacy, and the struggle between them. His take on Bush was that he wasn’t all that stupid, he just surrounded himself with the wrong people and let the right people take a backseat in policy decisions. The Conservative/Neo Conservative tug of war that would lead to Powell’s resignation is one that the American public only caught a glimpse of in the media, but in “Promises to Keep” the Senator is able to show us a little more than what we were previously privy to. It is this information that makes our current reality in Iraq all the more depressing.

Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of the book though is Biden’s mixture of personal and professional life. True, political memoirs are a dime a dozen, but the advantage this book has is that Joe Biden seems genuinely friendly, and as such it’s easier to get to know about his life. It isn’t a “mea culpa” like Robert McNamara’s books; it isn’t an 800 page tome that in the end doesn’t tell you much outside what you didn’t know, it’s just one man telling as many sides of the story to his life as he can. One final disclaimer, “Promises to Keep” isn’t a quick read. It’s denser than usual, and is best to take on a chapter by chapter basis. But it is well worth reading, simply because it shows just how human and how fit for the vice presidency Joe the Senator really is.

Next Time: "The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin'"

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