William Voegeli of the Claremont Review of Books brought up a strange Joe Biden interview from 1974 I hadn’t seen before in which Biden emerges as arrogant and determined to make more money, one way or another. Biden also speaks of his first wife Neilia, who had died two years earlier, in unusually frank ways: His Senate office was then something of a shrine to her, decorated with dozens of pictures including a large one of her tombstone, and he spoke about her for three hours.
“Let me show you my favorite picture of her,” he told Kitty Kelley, holding up a picture of Neilia in a bikini. “She had the best body of any woman I ever saw. She looks better than a Playboy bunny, doesn’t she?” He also said Neilia was a conservative Republican when they met but became a Democrat and that “at first she stayed at home with the kids while I campaigned but that didn’t work out because I’d come back too tired to talk to her. I might satisfy her in bed but I didn’t have much time for anything else.” He exclaimed, “Neilia was my very best friend, my greatest ally, my sensuous lover. The longer we lived together the more we enjoyed everything from sex to sports. Most guys don’t really know what I lost because they never knew what I had. Our marriage was sensational.”
Another weird detail is that Biden referred to Neilia as “my beautiful millionaire wife.” Biden brings up money repeatedly: Kelley alludes to “the temptation to sell out to big business or big labor for financial help” because Biden admitted “that more than once he was tempted to compromise to get campaign money.” Biden added, “I probably would have if it hadn’t been for the ramrod character of my Scotch Presbyterian wife.” He had been in office for only eight months before he started complaining about being underpaid. “I don’t know about the rest of you but I am worth a lot more than my salary of $42,500 a year in this body. It seems to me that we should flat out tell the American people we are worth our salt,” he said on the Senate floor. ($42,500 is about $249,000 in today’s dollars. Biden was 31 when he made these remarks.) Biden’s evident belief that he deserves to be wealthy stood out in a 2008 New York Times story that explained how a man living on a public servant’s salary was able to live like a Bourbon king: “Biden has been able to dip into his campaign treasury to spend thousands of dollars on home landscaping,” the Times explained, and also rich businessmen filtered their support of Biden through other means: “the acquisition of his waterfront property a decade ago involved wealthy businessmen and campaign supporters, some of them bankers with an interest in legislation before the Senate, who bought his old house for top dollar, sold him four acres at cost and lent him $500,000 to build his new home.” He sold the house he had bought in 1975 for top dollar to — get this — the vice-chairman of MBNA, who gave Biden $1.2 million for it. MBNA has showed its gratitude to Biden’s support in a number of ways: by giving over $200,000 to his various campaigns, by hiring Hunter Biden, by flying Biden and his wife to a retreat in Maine, etc. Mother Jones dubbed Biden “the senator from MBNA.”
In the 1974 interview, Biden also apparently brought up unprompted his ultimate goal: “I know I can be a good President.” Neilia, he said, would have been an asset with respect to this: “I know I could have easily made the White House with Neilia.” One of his associates told Kelley of any future wife: “He also needs to find a First Lady, a woman who enjoys politics and will help him get to the White House.” His then-girlfriend, a reporter named Francie Bernard, was considered appropriate: “I do know that the woman he marries will he as rich and as pretty as she is,” the Biden associate told Kelley. What a strange place to bring up money.
Kelley notes in passing that while riding an elevator with fellow senator Tom Eagleton, “Biden tells him a joke with an antisemitic punchline and asks that it be off the record.”
One more thing: the profile was written the year after Roe v. Wade. Biden: “I don’t like the Supreme Court decision on abortion. I think it went too far. I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.”