Stephen Colbert could not have hid his admiration and respect for Vice President Joe Biden if he tried — but he didn't. In Biden's first interview since his son Beau died of brain cancer in May at the age of 46, Colbert nearly fawned over the possible 2016 presidential candidate as the two bonded over their Irish Catholic roots and overcoming unthinkable tragedy.
On the eve of the 14th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the brand new host of The Late Show dove right into the 20-minute interview by complimenting Vice President Biden on his singular authenticity. "How did you maintain your soul in a city that is so filled with people that are trying to lie to us in subtle ways?" Colbert asked, only half-joking.
“I commuted every day for 36 years,” Biden responded. The then-Senator famously drove home to Delaware every night from D.C. to be with his family. “What always confuses me about some folks that I’ve worked with is why in God’s name would you want the job if you couldn’t say what you believed. There’s nothing noble about this, but ask yourselves the question: Would you want a job that in fact every day you had to get up and you had to modulate what you said in you believed? If you‘re going to run, you’re running for a reason and you want the job for a reason, and if you can’t state why you want the job, then there’s a lot more lucrative opportunities other places.”
As is well-known, Biden lost his young wife and one-year-old daughter in a car accident shortly after taking his Senate seat and devoted himself fully to his surviving sons Beau and Hunter, who were both injured in the crash. Four decades later, he would lose his son Beau to cancer.
Biden spoke candidly about the tragic loss and appeared to relish the opportunity to speak about his son’s remarkable character and accomplishments.
“You know, my dad had an expression,” Biden said. “He used to say, ‘You know you’re a success as a parent when you turn and look at your child and realize they turned out better than you.’ I was a hell of a success. My son was better than me. And he was better than me in almost every way.”
“I marvel at the ability of people to absorb hurt and just get back up, and most of them do it with an incredible sense of empathy to other people,” the Vice President continued. “I mean, it’s interesting, the people I find who I’m most drawn to are people who have been hurt and yet, I’m not going to embarrass you, but you’re one of them, buddy...Your mom, your family, losing your dad when you’re a kid and three brothers.”
Colbert’s father and two of his brothers died in a plane crash in 1974.
Later in the interview, Colbert asked Biden about “the donkey in the room:” whether or not Biden would seek the Democratic Presidential nomination.
"I don’t think any man or woman should run for president unless, number one, they know exactly why they would want to be president," Biden said. "Two, they can look at the folks out there and say, ‘I promise you have my whole heart, my whole soul, energy, and my passion to do this.’ And I’d be lying if I said that I knew I was there. I’m being completely honest."
To illustrate his hesitancy, Biden then provided an anecdote about a recent trip to Denver where he addressed military families at the airport.
“It was going great, and a guy in the back yells, ‘Major Beau Biden. Bronze Star, sir. Served with him in Iraq.’
“All of a sudden, I lost it,” he said. “You can’t do that. You can’t do that.”
But Colbert later made a personal appeal for Biden to run.
"I know it’s an emotional decision for you to make, but it’s going to be an emotional decision for a lot of people if you don’t run," he said. "And sir, I just want to say that I think your experience and your example of suffering and service is something that would be sorely missed in the race. Not that there aren’t good people on both sides running—but I think we’d all be very happy if you did run.”
The remarkable interview has set the bar high for future candidates hosted on The Late Show. As Colbert has already had Jeb Bush and Biden on the show within the first few days, it seems the show will become something of a casual campaigning forum. It'll be interesting to see if Hillary Clinton or any other presidential hopefuls match the emotional impact Biden made on viewers.