NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden urged graduating Yale University students on Sunday to avoid questioning the motives of others in the search for common ground.
At a time when critics say Washington, D.C., is hamstrung by partisanship and an inability to compromise, Biden told the more than 1,200 students and their families and friends to "try to look beyond the caricature of the person with whom you have to work."
"It gets in the way of being able to reach consensus for things that matter to you and many other people," he said.
Biden said he learned early in his first term as a senator from Delaware to not find fault based on what he believed motivated others.
He recalled that he objected angrily to criticism by then-Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., of a proposal for broader rights for disabled citizens. Then-Sen. Mike Mansfield, D-Mont., told Biden that Helms had adopted a disabled youngster.
"I felt like a fool," Biden said.
The vice president recalled Mansfield telling him it's appropriate to question another man's judgment, but to not question what's behind his decisions "because you simply don't know his motives."
As a result, Biden said he's equipped to work with Democrats and Republicans because "whether they like me or not they know that I don't judge them for what I think they're thinking."
"When you question a man's motives, when you say they're acting out of greed or in the pocket of an interest group, it's awful hard to reach consensus," he said.
The vice president, speaking under a canopy of elm trees before hundreds of students taking part in a venerable Yale tradition of wearing off-beat hats capped by stuffed animals, ersatz slices of cheese and an oversized beer mug, poked fun of himself and his occasional gaffes.
"I realize no one ever doubts I mean what I say. The problem occasionally is I say all that I mean," he said. "I have a bad reputation for being straight, sometimes at inappropriate times."
And he jokingly used Yale's sports program to hint at his unfulfilled presidential ambitions.
"Look, you know it's tough to end a great man's basketball and football season one touchdown away from beating Harvard this year for the first time since 2006. So close to something you wanted for eight years. I can only imagine how you feel. I can only imagine. So close. So close," he said to laughter, cheers and applause.