Steve Chapman

Biden notes that he himself could have gone to the best public high school in Delaware. Instead, he enrolled at Archmere Academy, a Catholic prep school that made him think he had "died and gone to Yale." He took a summer job to help pay the steep tuition, which today amounts to $18,450 a year.

That doesn't mean the Bidens never had financial trouble. Biden says they had to move in with his mother's parents after one setback, and he remembers "when the electric company would send a collector to the house."

For nearly a year, the father was reduced to cleaning boilers for a heating company. But middle-class people are not immune to unemployment and bad business deals, and the Bidens regained their footing before long.

So where did he get his working-class reputation? Partly it comes from Biden's streetwise demeanor and his preoccupation with the fact that his family wasn't as well-off as some of the people he knew -- which seems to have given him a permanent chip on his shoulder. Partly it comes from his frequent tributes to blue-collar folks, such as the firefighters who took him to the hospital when he suffered an aneurysm.

But mostly it reflects journalists' weakness for simple, vivid narratives. It's easy to write about a statesman who worked his way up from a log cabin. It's easy to write about a leader who came from great wealth. But someone growing up the son of a sales manager is a bit lacking in color and drama.

The errors about Biden bring to mind the recent satirical report from humorist Andy Borowitz: "A member of the U.S. Olympic diving team was disqualified from competition today when it was learned that he did not have a sufficiently compelling human story line to exploit on the NBC telecast of the worldwide sporting event."

Biden just didn't have a sufficiently compelling human story line for a presidential campaign. Luckily, he does now.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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