- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 14, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I have watched Gov. Sarah Palin flaunt her baby at political rallies and pass him along from family member to family member as if he were nothing more than a plastic prop.

I can’t help but wonder about a candidate so eager to capitalize on having a baby with Down syndrome.

Yes, her story is dramatic. She was a mother of four who chose to have a fifth child even though she knew he would be born with special needs. If you combine that with her eldest child being shipped off to Iraq on Sept. 11, you have one remarkable Lifetime movie script.

However, there’s an equally compelling story involving her Democratic vice-presidential rival, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (whose son also is being shipped off to Iraq next month but with less hype) that was never captured on film.

It’s a story that reveals far more about Mr. Biden’s character than Mrs. Palin’s public spectacles ever will.

It was Jan. 3, the night of the Iowa caucuses. I had traveled to Des Moines to volunteer for the fledgling Biden campaign. There weren’t many of us, maybe just a few hundred in a banquet hall that night awaiting Mr. Biden’s speech after his disappointing fifth-place finish.

After assuring everyone in the room that he was going to be just fine, that there was no reason to feel sad and that he would be returning happily to the Senate to continue fighting for all of us, he walked among the crowd thanking everyone for his or her support.

I waited nearly an hour, till the crowd had dispersed a bit, before making my way to Mr. Biden, hoping to shake his hand and tell him my great line that I had been rehearsing in my head over and over.

After finally getting within an arm’s reach of him, I saw my chance and extended my hand. But instead of greeting me, Mr. Biden turned to the guy next to me.

“This guy’s my buddy!” Mr. Biden said, breaking into his patented smile and enveloping the guy in a grandfatherly bear hug.

At first, I was annoyed that Mr. Biden had ignored me. But then I saw that the guy he was hugging was a young boy in his early teens with Down syndrome.

I waited patiently as Mr. Biden cradled the boy’s head in his arms, stroked his hair lovingly and looked him square in the eye, repeating to him over and over, “You’re my buddy. Thanks for coming here tonight and being with me. I’m so happy you’re here.”

Mr. Biden’s affection and empathy for that boy wasn’t being played for any crowds or any cameras.

On a night when he had just been eliminated in his second and probably last run for the presidency, when he could have been disappointed and bitter and made an early exit, Joe Biden was genuinely more concerned about making this boy feel loved and appreciated than he was about himself.

I turned around and left the banquet hall, forgoing my only chance to shake Mr. Biden’s hand and thank him for his honorable run for the presidency.

I figured nothing I could say to him could top the grace and humanity I had just witnessed in that moment.

STEVE DOPPELT

New York

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