Former Vice President Joe Biden and Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, expressed their concerns about polarizing political parties during an event at the University of Delaware Tuesday afternoon.
The University’s Center for Political Communication hosted the event in partnership with the Biden Institute. Chaired by the 47th VP, the institute aims to bring public policy leaders together to address various economic, political and social issues.
This week’s event was organized to spark dialogue on how to bridge partisan divides–earlier this month, a Pew Research Center study found the divisions between Republicans and Democrats on various political beliefs has increased since Donald Trump was elected president.
“Personal relationships matter. Getting to know someone, getting to know what they think, getting to know their background, getting to know their family, getting to know how they act and what they care about really matters—even when we fundamentally disagree,” Biden said.
“This system is built on having to be able to compromise.”
Kasich, who a couple weeks ago said he’d stop supporting the Republican Party if it wasn’t “fixed,” said parties have becoming too isolated. The governor also has been vocal about his aversion to Trump, and chose not to attend the Republican convention when the party endorsed his candidacy.
“I didn’t go to convention in Ohio. People are still furious at me about it. I didn’t endorse Donald Trump. People in my party are still angry at me about it. I just got together with [Democratic governor) John Hickenlooper [of Colorado] to put together a bipartisan bill on healthcare, and you know what everybody says? ‘There’s something in it for him,’” Kasich said.
“I think today we’ve become so cynical that if Joe and I are sitting here on this stage and we get along, someone figures out there’s some ulterior motive behind it all. You know, some people do good things because it’s the right thing to do.”
Biden said Democrats are constantly attacked by the “far left,” while and Republicans are attacked by the “far right.”
“Both political parties are moving more to the extremes—the center is diminishing,” he said. “It’s not possible for this country to function if you don’t reach a consensus.”
Biden also told anecdotal stories of the so-called dysfunction in Washington D.C.
He said he first noticed the change in atmosphere in 1997, when he and U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, sat next to each other on the senate floor during debates. Biden said Democrats told him the gesture wasn’t good for the party, while Republicans told McCain to stop sitting next to Biden.
He also spoke of an incident during his time as Vice President at a meeting with then-President Barack Obama, and two leading Republicans.
Biden said one told Obama: “Do you realize how difficult it is to even be sitting in here with you … I’m taking a real political risk even being here with you.”
Biden then detailed the interaction he had with Obama as they walked out the door.
He said Obama grabbed him and asked, “Where are you going?”
“I said, ‘I have to talk to that so—that guy.’ He looked at me and said, ‘Don’t Joe.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to let anyone talk to the President of the United States like that.’ He said, ‘Joe, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.’ I said, ‘No, that’s bad manners.’”
Biden and Kasich also spent much time discussing President Donald Trump. Biden expressed concern about the “dangers” of his conduct, including his Twitter feuds. He called his tweets about North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “bizarre conduct.”
“There are certain basic norms, and he doesn’t understand them, and the ones he understands he tries to break down. This penchant for self-aggrandizement, and this pension for tweeting and this penchant for focusing specifically and internally on what he does or doesn’t do is sending a message to all of you and your younger siblings that is totally inappropriate,” Biden said.
“There’s a reason why we have certain basic social norms. The thing I find most debilitating about what’s going on is the destruction of these norms creating chaos. Folks, this breaking down of international and national norms—the glue that holds the world order together, and holds together our system—that’s what being under attack now, and that’s what’s most dangerous.”
Kasich said Trump’s election win was the result of a polarizing government, manifesting for several years.
“People felt hopeless, they felt the current political system didn’t work for them. They’re unemployed, they have nowhere to go. And they thought, ‘All these politicians, forget it, I’m going to try something new,’” he said.
Biden also denounced Trump’s response to the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, which Trump was heavily criticized for when he said there were “bad people” on “many sides.”
“I think what you saw in Charlottesville was people coming out from under rocks, and out of fields, carrying torches, Nazi flags, the same rhetoric that occurred in Germany in the 30s—the idea you’d see that again is beyond comprehension,” he said. “The failure of the President of the United States to condemn it … emboldens people to think they can do this kind of thing.”
Kasich said he encourages Americans to remember to “love thy neighbor.”
“I think if you love your neighbor as you want your neighbor to love you and practice humility, you have an obligation to live your life a little differently,” he said.
During the discussion, the pair also discussed the importance of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Biden also expressed his concerns about alleged Russian involvement in the election, including paying for Facebook ads to push Americans to vote for Trump.
“There’s a full blown unadulterated assault on the openness of our electoral system that is in fact frightening,” he said. “What’s it designed to do? Fundamentally break down those elements in our government that prevents the accumulation and abuse of power.”