Monday, April 23, 2007

Joe Biden's Speech at the Polk County Democrats Spring Dinner

Days Until Bush Leaves Office = 638

Joe Biden was the last candidate to address the crowd, and took the stage to robust applause. Every election cycle, he said, America puts up a job description for president. The job description changes from cycle to cycle, but this time, according to Biden, the job description is: restore America’s place in the world, restore the middle class, and put an end to the politics of polarization. In today’s America, Biden said, there is not a single problem that lends itself to a solution supported by 51% of the people and opposed by the other 49%. In order to prevail in the general election, Biden said, the Democratic nominee will need to not just win the same tier of 20 or so “blue” states won by Al Gore and John Kerry in the last two cycles, but also be competitive in at least 9 or 10 traditionally “red’ states as well.

Establishing his thesis for the night, Biden said, “I’m not running for the exercise.”

Biden characterized the current political climate as the politics of false choices. Iraq, he said, cannot be passed on to the next president, or abandoned by the United States, without any idea about what comes next. The next president, Biden said, “needs to be smarter than his advisors,” when it comes to solving problems, and the key question to answer on Iraq is “then what?” Withdraw the troops: then what? How will the civil war be extinguished? How will we conduct our diplomacy so as to involve Iraq’s neighbors in a constructive way? Biden declared that his Iraq plan was the best answer to these questions, and went on to describe it in detail. While Biden’s explanation of his plan was lengthy and very specific, it seemed to me that he had much of the crowd hanging on his every word, a rapt silence that said the audience was decidedly in the mood to hear the details, not just the principles, of his proposals. It was a surprising moment, and a very impressive one.

Biden then turned to Darfur, and declared that when a nation engages in genocide, it forfeits its right to sovereignty. Biden then stated that U.S. troops should be dispatched to Sudan, where, he maintained, 2,500 American soldiers would quickly put an end to the genocide in Darfur. This was a bold proposal that I hadn’t heard before, and I’m at a loss as to why the mainstream media didn’t pick up on this. Biden then took a slap at John Edwards’ remarks of a few minutes earlier for decrying the genocide in Darfur and the lack of U.S. response to it, but failing to propose a solution.

Biden then turned from foreign affairs to domestic policy, specifically education. Funding seems to be the root of the problems in education for Biden, and he summed up by stating, “Show me you budget, I’ll show you what you value.”

Arriving at his summation, Joe Biden challenged his fellow candidates, and Democrats generally, to stop being tentative, stop beating around the bush. The American people, Biden went on, want leadership and are not afraid of the challenges confronting the country. The American people have never let this country down, Biden exclaimed, and “I am sick of Democrats being cowards.” Biden appealed to the audience for support as a candidate “who you know where they stand” on issues. In the best line delivered by any speaker on the night, Joe Biden concluded by saying, “It ain’t complicated, folks. It just takes courage. Join me to make hope and history rhyme.” The press was all over him as he left the rostrum, and he worked the hall for another 15 minutes after the speech.

This was not the Joe Biden you read about in the mainstream media, the long-winded, academic, bloodless Joe Biden. That characterization may have been true in the past, but tonight I saw a different candidate, different even from when I met him last month, one who, indeed, is not running just for the exercise. Judging from his speech at this gathering, Joe Biden has stopped playing safe in his campaign, stopped parsing his words, and has started speaking from the heart. It was an extraordinary thing to witness, and if continued, may just be the approach that shakes up his prospects and gets him out of single digits.


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