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Biden author on the biggest misconception about the candidate

Evan Osnos, author of 'Joe Biden: The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now' joins Yahoo Finance to discuss his new book.

Video Transcript

ADAM SHAPIRO: The presidential election is, what, four days away, and we have the author of "Joe Biden-- The Life, the Run and What Matters Now," Evan Osnos, joining us to talk about his book about Biden. And Evan, it's good to have you here. We're going to jump into some of the things that people already know and may not know about Joe Biden. For instance, recovered from two brain aneurysms. We know the tragic part of the story of Mr. Biden from his first wife and the car accident where one of his children-- a child died. But I got to ask you off the top, do you think he's going to win?

EVAN OSNOS: You know, I think if anybody is overly confident in one direction or another, they're not a student of history. So I pay attention in the polls, I believe the polls, but I also think we're seeing a pretty dramatic effort on the part of Trump's campaign to use the courts to try to disrupt the results that the polls suggest, and I think we have to take that seriously, and that raises a serious prospect of an upset here, so we'll have to see. But yeah, I think fundamentally I would suspect that Joe Biden will win this race, and that shouldn't be actually a huge mystery to us. I think if you begin to lay it out, it seems like in many ways, the political logic prevails.

JULIE HYMAN: Evan, it's Julie here. I mean, Joe Biden has been in politics obviously a long time and has gone through a lot of different changes sort of in public perception of him. I mean, certainly as vice president under Obama, he was known as being gaffe prone, for example, but he's also known as being strong experience on foreign policy. I mean, how, when you're doing a profile, a book of him, what's sort of the headline on Joe Biden--


JULIE HYMAN: As you try to pull all of the threads together?

EVAN OSNOS: No, it's a really interesting question, because in some ways, we might look at Joe Biden and say, is there anything we don't know about this man after 50 years in public life? And the honest answer is-- and my founding idea here was, look, if we took your life or if we took my life and we reduced it to four or five bullet points, would that actually give people an understanding of how our minds work? I mean, how do we make decisions? What motivates us? What has shaped us at various points, and ultimately, how do we sort of make that decision making matrix now?

And that's what led me to think that ultimately, the most interesting thing about Joe Biden is the fact that he is a different person at different points in his life. He has been shaped by these moments in some profound ways. I'll give you one example-- when he ran for president in 2007, 2008, he was convinced that he was the man for the job. He went into the administration still believing, as he said to people, I think I could have done this job. I think I was the right man for it. It's why I ran.

But after a few months of watching Barack Obama up close, seeing the kind of discipline and preparation that he put into his work, I mean, literally, just stooped over his briefing books every night, Biden conceded to David Axelrod, who told me the story, that he said, look, I was wrong, actually. The best man won, and I'm honored to be serving him, and I am trying to help him succeed. So I think you see in the course of his life these moments in which he has acknowledged sort of with some self reflection that he was wrong about things, that he regretted them, and that he was trying to improve on it, and that's not something we universally see in politics.

- Evan, when you look back on the last four years, you could argue one of the most dramatic shifts that we've seen under this administration is the US perception, or the perception of the US internationally. And Joe Biden during his time in public service, you know, foreign policy has really been a strong suit for him, and I'm curious how you think that policy is likely to shift under him, especially given the geopolitical dynamics that we see right now.

EVAN OSNOS: Yeah, it's interesting, because I started paying attention to Joe Biden partly because so much of my career has been as a foreign correspondent. I was coming back from living in China for eight years, I come to Washington to cover politics, and I gravitated to him partly because he had his hand in a lot of interesting issues. I mean, he used to joke that Obama sends him to the places he doesn't want to go, and there's some truth to that, actually. I mean, after all, Biden had been chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and somebody working in the administration at one point said to me, the thing is about this guy, you can drop him into any random capital in the world, and he will know some Joe Schmo, whether it's a socialist or a fascist or something in between, because he's encountered them so much. And so he comes to it with that reservoir of previous knowledge.

Now, that can be a strength or a liability. The strength, of course, is unlike other presidents that we've had recently, he's not an amateur coming into office. He knows actually what the meaning of an alliance is. He understands why we have them he's read his history. What he also, though, has is that in some ways he's shaped by the muscle memory of those moments in American history when we did occupy a different position, when there was this more established, more fortified sense of American exceptionalism.

He's coming into office now, if he wins, at a time in which you have the US and China, after all, competing in a more overt way rather than cooperating in some basic way, and they both have to make a case for themselves. And I think part of the urgency that will attach to a Biden foreign policy, if that comes to pass, is about reclaiming that ground to say that there is such a thing as a free world, and that we are participants in it, we want to be leaders of it, and we're re-establishing our credibility there and going out into the world on behalf of democracy, but not doing it in the way that led us into trouble in Iraq. So that's the moment he finds himself in, and it's a bit of an evolved position from where he would have been when they left office four years ago.

DAN ROBERTS: Evan, Dan Roberts here. We're asking you a lot about perceptions, and to play off of what Julie brought up, you know, there are certain perceptions, many misconceptions about Biden. You know, one big one during the campaign has been his speech, and then it came out, you know, he had a childhood stammer or stutter. What are some of the other, do you think, very common and damaging misconceptions about Biden? What are some of the things you've discovered that you think a lot of people get wrong about him?

EVAN OSNOS: I mean, let's put it front and center. There is this narrative about his age and his acuity and whether or not he is, as the Trump campaign puts it, in a kind of cognitive decline. I should point out, by the way, this was not a message that was just pushed by the Trump campaign, you also heard it from the far left during the primary. Jill Stein, in fact, at one point, there's been a great analysis done by a Stanford researcher, Jill Stein started tweeting Biden cognitive decline and did it with such intensity that she was able to elevate it into one of the trending topics on Twitter.

I think it's understandable why the Trump campaign is doing this. They have a candidate who is after all the oldest man ever to have been elected president and is now encouraging voters to inject bleach into their bodies as a defense against the COVID epidemic, so I can see why they would want to draw attention to it. The fact is that Joe Biden's doctors-- and I think if we've learned anything this year, we should probably be listening to doctors, not political analysts or writers talking about health-- Joe Biden's doctors say he is, quote "a healthy vigorous man of his age."

Now, his age is 77. He is not 37, and I've been talking to him off and on over the years, I would say he is thinner today. He's a little slower than he was in the past when he moves across the stage or moves across the room, but his mind is unchanged. I mean, I think literally anybody who's been paying attention to Joe Biden for more than this period of a campaign over the last two years knows that if you go back 20 years and you look at how people wrote about him, they'd say, why is it that this guy begins sentences that don't end in the same place? Why does he go in one direction and then darts in another direction?

This has been a pattern of his speech and his thinking for as long as he's been in public life. The stutter is a real fact of that, and I think some of us in politics are kind of in the political analysis world are wary of people who will trot that out as a prop. It's not a prop in his case. I mean, I've talked to him about it. He grew up in a situation, as he put it, in which he felt like he couldn't speak.

I mean, his nickname in school was Joe Impedimenta because he couldn't get his words out, and the process of kind of breaking the back of that stutter, which he did essentially by reciting The Declaration of Independence and, you know, memorizing Irish poetry and reading it back into the mirror, was a part of how he gained the sense that actually he might have a future as a speaker, as a person in public life. But I think part of the reason to write this book was that we get locked into these two dimensional portraits of people, positively or negatively, and we're not doing ourselves a great service, I think, as voters, as citizens, because we may not actually understand really who somebody is who's about to take on this solemn responsibility. And one could argue that that was part of the problem we had last time, and we allowed ourselves to be seduced by this media narrative in one direction or another, and we're paying the price for it.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Perhaps we could sum it up with two words-- character counts. Evan Osnos is the author of "Joe Biden-- The Life, the Run, and What Matters Now." Thank you for joining us here at Yahoo Finance.

EVAN OSNOS: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.