How Joe Biden’s ‘folksy’ style has caused him trouble

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Joe Biden - AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Joe Biden – AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

In a public service career spanning six decades, former US vice president Joe Biden has  developed a folksy style with a reputation for speaking off the cuff, which has occasionally landed him in hot water.

Since being elected to the senate for Delaware in 1972, Mr Biden has espoused the working class values he learned in his youth in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

But the everyman persona has at times exposed “Uncle Joe” to accusations of racism and sexism for unguarded comments. In one off-script moment from the presidential campaign trail last year, Mr Biden said “poor kids are just as talented as white kids”, when he presumably meant to say rich kids.

President Donald Trump tried to exploit Mr Biden’s gaffes, repeatedly questioning the mental acuity of his 77-year-old rival and labelling him “Sleepy Joe”.

Mr Trump made a Biden gaffe reel a staple at his rallies. In Butler, Pennsylvania, last October, the president smirked and his fans laughed at a clip where Mr Biden said he was running for the senate instead of the presidency.

Videos of Mr Biden's gaffes were played at Mr Trump's rallies - Mark Makela/Getty Images
Videos of Mr Biden’s gaffes were played at Mr Trump’s rallies – Mark Makela/Getty Images

At other times Mr Biden’s own rallies have seen his homespun attempts to forge a connection with voters fall flat.

In New Hampshire last April, Mr Biden joked that a student at a campaign event who questioned his ability to win the presidential election was a “lying dog-faced pony soldier”, a crack at humour that left the 21-year-old woman feeling embarrassed.

Mr Biden was forced to rein in his tactile tendencies after numerous women reported that his unwanted touching and kissing made them feel uncomfortable.

In a video released last April, Mr Biden said he would be more mindful and respectful of personal space in the future, excusing his past behaviour by citing changing social mores.

But in March this year, a woman alleged Mr Biden had sexually assaulted her in 1993, forcing her against a wall and penetrating her.

Mr Biden was criticised for touching Stephanie Carter, who is married to former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter - SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
Mr Biden was criticised for touching Stephanie Carter, who is married to former Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter – SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Tara Reade said the assault happened in a Capitol Hill office building when she was a staff assistant in his Senate office. A then-neighbour said she remembered Ms Reade telling her at the time about the alleged assault.

Mr Biden “unequivocally” denied the allegation, saying “it never happened”.

Mr Biden’s long public career has given him the opportunity to outlast earlier controversies.

In 1987, when Mr Biden first ran for president, he at one point claimed to have finished in the top half of his class at Syracuse University College of Law. In fact, he graduated 76th out of 85.

His 1987 presidential bid collapsed amid accusations of plagiarism, after he sprinkled a debate with phrases lifted from Neil Kinnock, the former leader of Britain’s Labour party. Mr Biden later said the lack of attribution was a mistake as he rushed to finish his closing remarks.

More recently, in 2007 Mr Biden was forced to revise his claim that he had been shot at while visiting US troops in Iraq, later clarifying he was “near where a shot landed.”

As vice president, Mr Biden appeared to repeatedly forget what state he was visiting during the 2012 campaign. Speaking before a largely black audience in Virginia, a garrulous Mr Biden warned that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wanted to “put y’all back in chains”.

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