Valerie Biden Owens cultivated her famous brother’s political career for the better part of a half-century, managing 36 years of Senate campaigns and two unsuccessful presidential bids. For Joe Biden’s third White House chase, Val, as she’s called in the former vice president’s inner circle, stepped away from day-to-day operations but remains one of his most trusted advisers. She spoke with The Associated Press ahead of Joe Biden accepting the Democratic Party’s nomination for the presidency on Thursday. The interview has been edited for brevity.
AP: Your brother still calls you his best friend and likes to say you’ve been on his handlebars since you were 3 years old —
VBO: I could do a flip to get on the handlebars or the side bar or the back fender. … I could have gone into gymnastics.
AP: And instead you went into politics. What will it be like to watch Thursday?
VBO: I wish, you know, Beau (Joe Biden’s late son) was right next to us. But I know he’s on his Dad’s shoulder. It’s obvious that it’s such a tremendous honor, but along with that vote of confidence in my brother, there’s a great deal of responsibility. AP: With the virtual convention, the surroundings won’t be the same. Does that matter to him?
VBO: We don’t look at this moment as a victory lap. This nomination gives him a platform to work with the American people. … Joe’s the right person at the right time for all the right reasons.
AP: Does he talk about the gravity of this juncture, beyond the usual significance of a presidential election?
VBO: I think he’s very much aware of where we are as a nation. We are in a time of struggle. We are in a time a grief. One tsunami is one thing. We’ve had four. We have the pandemic. We have the economic chaos. We have the environmental chaos caused by climate change. We have systemic racism. So there’s a lot. He’s walking into this, again, with a seriousness of purpose.
Everything that Donald Trump is, my brother is the polar opposite. I don’t have to make him bigger than he is. He’s good enough as he is, and he is prepared and I believe he’s uniquely qualified right now to lead. … All of this has come together. My brother appreciates it. He can feel it.
AP: When did you first suspect he was headed for politics on a big stage?
VBO: It was in the neighborhood. From the time I can remember, I opened my eyes, and he was there. He put out his hand and said, ‘Come on, Val. We’ve got things do and people to see and places to go.’ And off we went. I was the only girl in the neighborhood, only girl in the family. His friends would look at him and say, ‘Why would you bring a girl.’ He would say, ‘She’s not a girl. She’s my sister.’ He’s very smart, but above all, he’s kind. … He’s a big speaker, but he’s a great listener. Kids came to him and he listened.
AP: Did his stutter make him a quieter child?
VBO: He was bullied as a stutterer. When you are bullied, you have a choice to make. You can become a bully yourself and step on people who don’t look like you or don’t speak like you or whose value you don’t even begin to understand. Or you can choose to realize we are in this together and develop empathy, which is what Joe did. It was a mortal sin our family to treat someone with less dignity or less respect. We were told that we had to take care of each other.
AP: What do you say to young progressives who don’t see the Joe Biden you see, who see just the establishment old white man?
VBO: I ask them, respectfully, to take a look at him. … We have the most progressive agenda of any Democratic nominee ever. It’s our job in the campaign to put forth his record.
AP: What’s it been like to see the Biden family, especially Hunter Biden, brought up? What do you say to voters who see the Bidens as just another political family making money?
VBO: My brother is the one running for president. There’s been absolutely not a hint of scandal, ugliness concerning my brother. Hunter has spoken to this. This is a distraction that (Donald) Trump wants.
AP: Going back to his struggle with stuttering – how important is that as a foundational part of who he is? VBO: The stutter at the time was horrible for him. But I think it was a great gift, because he did not let the stuttering define him. He did not let somebody else’s opinion of him and description of him as a lesser person define him. What he developed as a result of that, this little boy, he developed a backbone of steel. … It was the family code. It’s not how many times you get knocked down, it’s how many times you get up. And you don’t get up by stepping on somebody else’s face or kicking them in the back. You get back up on your own power.
AP: Is there any disappointment that he won’t get a traditional convention?
VBO: As a sister, yeah. (But) this convention reflects the moment, and he’s not disappointed. It’s not woe is me. … It’s a very hopeful time, but not a time for balloon drops.”