“Silence is deafening. Silence is complicity.”
Those were just a few of the powerful words former United States vice president Joe Biden spoke to a sold-out crowd at The Arlington Theatre and enraptured groups of students watching the simulcast from UCSB’s Campbell Hall. The Saturday afternoon lecture and following Q&A, which was part of the UCSB Arts & Lectures speaker series, lasted over an hour and a half.
“It’s time to reignite a sense of unity,” Biden said. “It’s time for us to lead again.”
Over 2,000 people gave Biden several standing ovations as he spoke about his career in public service, the state of American politics, and his belief that young adults are in a good place to fix the system. Clad in a suit, red-striped tie, and glimmering American flag pin, Biden spoke about the importance of talking and listening to one another.
During his time as a U.S. senator, Biden authored the 1994 Crime Act and Violence Against Women Act, and referenced his history of advocating for social justice, which he attributed to growing up and working in a racially segregated part of Delaware. He said that his career in public service taught him a number of lessons in diplomacy in a bipartisan Congress, such as the importance of questioning one’s judgment but not one’s motive.
Biden also took a swipe at the state of the American political system and President Donald Trump’s comments on the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August. “Our politics has become mean, petty, and self-serving to a degree it never has been,” he said.
His confidence, though, lies in college students joining public service to restore dignity to politics. Current college students are the “best educated, most engaged, most tolerant, most talented, most technologically advanced generation in American history,” Biden said. He even traveled to Campbell Hall to speak after the simulcast, answering questions from inquisitive students.
In a Q&A with UCSB sociology professor Kum-Kum Bhavnani following his lecture, Biden spoke about gun control. The Second Amendment, he said, was designed for a well-regulated militia at the time of its addition to the Constitution. The amendment allows people to determine who can own a gun, Biden said, and says nothing about owning an assault rifle or a bazooka.
The tone quickly shifted once an almost soft-spoken Biden addressed the loss of his son Beau in 2015 and his upcoming memoir, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose. The book, named after one of Beau’s last comments to his father, and an Immanuel Kant quote about how to achieve happiness, recounts the year that Biden’s son died and the former vice president’s struggle to maintain his duties while grieving.
He “never wanted me to give up on continuing to change the world,” Biden said.