Richard Ben Cramer on ‘what it took’ for Joe Biden

Richard Ben Cramer, an extraordinary reporter, could pack enough energy into a paragraph to charge a lightning bolt.

To read Cramer is to get caught up in his rhythm, to follow is thinking, and to come to his understanding of the subject he was reporting on. Cramer brought all of his writing and reporting talent to bear on his classic tome What It Takes: The Way to the White House.

In that book, Cramer follows all of the major candidates of the 1988 election campaign, both Democratic and Republican, interviewing them and spending hours at their side while they shook hands, gave speeches, kissed babies, answered questions, and held meetings. His 1,000-plus page book was a remarkable revelation not only of the campaigners but also of the way of presidential politics of the time.

One of the candidates he followed was Joe Biden, now the former vice president and current presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

Back in 1988, Biden was simply a senator from Delaware trying to make it onto the national stage.

What Cramer wrote about Biden’s early life and his battle with stuttering is still worth reading, no matter what side of the political fence you find yourself on. Fortunately for us, Cramer’s account has been conveniently posted here on a site called Reprints.Longform.org.

Joe did not stutter all the time. At home, he almost never stuttered. With his friends, seldom. But when he moved to Delaware, there were no friends. There were new kids, a new school, and new nuns to make him stand up and read in class: that’s when it always hit—always always always. When he stood up in front of everybody else, and he wanted, so much, to be right, to be smooth, to be smart, to be normal, j-j-ju-ju-ju-ju-jus’th-th-th-th-then!

Of course, they laughed. Why wouldn’t they laugh? He was new, he was small, he was … ridiculous … even to him. There was nothing wrong. That’s what the doctors said.

So why couldn’t he talk right?

Cramer, unfortunately, is no longer with us. He died in January 2013 from complications with lung cancer. He was 62 years old.

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About Jim Stovall

Jim Stovall, (JPROF.com) a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self-publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker, and beekeeper -- among other things. Subscribe to his weekly newsletter at http://www.jprof.com .
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