Friday, September 7, 2012

Charlotte, Day 3: Biden unchained

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY caught a break last week. Vice President Joe Biden was planning to be in the GOP convention city of Tampa, Fla., right when the Romney coronation machine was gearing up. He was supposed to attend campaign events in the state and make a stop in Tampa when the convention opened.

Whatever the official rationale for his going there, it’s fair to conclude that part of the reason was a chance to stick a finger in the elephant, to steal some of the GOP spotlight from the Romney coronation — to make mischief just by showing up.

The Tampa trip didn’t happen, almost certainly something to do with Hurricane Isaac. But what the Republicans avoided on their own home turf last week was inescapable on Thursday, when Biden spoke at the Democratic National Convention and showed why, politically speaking, he’s one of the best friends President Obama ever had.

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The vice president took the stage at the Time Warner Cable Arena with his signature style, honeyed and pugnacious, a rose in an Everlast glove. He offered the audience a tale of two crises that confronted Obama — the automobile industry rescue and the takeout of Osama bin Laden — and whose resolution revealed the president’s character, all the things that show “he has never wavered. He never, never backs down. He always steps up … that’s what inside this man, that’s what makes him tick. That’s who he is.”

Biden offered his own chronology of the evolution of the auto industry crisis, and the obligatory huddles with the experts, and the blowback from the naysayers who said there was too much risk involved.

“We listened to senators, congressmen, outside advisers, even some of our own advisers say we shouldn’t step in, the risks were too high, the outcome too uncertain. The President patiently listened. But he didn’t see it their way. He understood something they didn’t. He understood that this wasn’t just about cars. It was about the Americans who built and made those cars — and about the America that those people BUILT!

“He intuitively understood the message it would have sent around the world if the United States gave up on an industry that helped put America on the map in the first place. …

“Conviction! Resolve! Barack Obama! That’s what saved the automobile industry.”

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The bin Laden operation was equally daunting, Biden said. “Barack understood that the search for bin Laden was about a lot more than taking a monstrous leader off the battlefield. It was about righting an unspeakable wrong, healing a nearly unbearable wound in America’s heart.

“He also knew the message we had to send to terrorists around the world: If you attack innocent Americans, we will follow you to the ends of the earth. Most of all, President Obama had an unyielding faith in the capacity and capability of our special forces, literally the finest warriors in the history of the world.

“We sat for days in the Situation Room. He listened to the risks and reservations about the raid. And he asked the tough questions. But when Admiral McRaven looked him in the eye and said-- “Sir, we can get this done,” I knew at that moment Barack had made his decision. His response was decisive. He said do it. And justice was done!”

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JOE BIDEN is what you call a mensch. If you’ve ever spent any serious time in New York City, you’ve heard the word and probably know what it means. If not, I’ll spare you Googling “The Joys of Yiddish.” Practically speaking, a mensch is a regular guy, a man of everyday integrity and honor, someone who can be counted on to do the right thing. He’s the ideal foxhole partner, but that’s just a definition from a defensive crouch. A mensch is a guy who’ll go on offense, on your behalf. He’ll walk point and do it with a sense of humor.

For years now, Joe Biden has been President Obama’s mensch-in-chief.

This year, like in the 2008 campaign, Biden viscerally connects with white, male, rural, lunch-bucket, working-class voters — a fact that stems from his own boyhood years in a struggling Irish Catholic family living in Scranton, Pa., and in Delaware. Biden’s backslapping, over-the-top style, his italics-and-exclamation-mark persona contrast perfectly with Obama’s cool, cerebral sang-froid in a way that satisfies the strategic calculus of presidential politics.

But more than that — now, like in 2008, Biden has an insider’s knowledge of Washington, and an ability to be a street fighter when the need arises. He wasn’t afraid to go upside Romney’s head last night. Softly and soundly.

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BIDEN, whose father was a car salesman in Delaware, chastised Romney’s corporatist mentality in a personal way. “When I look back now on the President’s decision, I also think of another son of an automobile man -- Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney grew up in Detroit. His father ran American Motors. Yet he was willing to let Detroit go bankrupt. It’s not that he’s a bad guy. I’m sure he grew up loving cars as much as I did. I just don’t think he understood—I just don’t think he understood what saving the automobile industry meant-to all of America. I think he saw it the Bain way. Balance sheets. Write-offs.

“Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profit. But it’s not the way to lead your country from its highest office.”

And as only a man with a son in the military could do, Joe Biden spoke at length about that which Mitt Romney had overlooked last week: the men and women who serve in the armed forces. Biden got specific last night, with data that quieted the crowd as he spoke about ““the incredible debt we owe to the families of the 6,473 fallen angels and the 49,746 wounded” in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We must never, ever forget their sacrifice,” he said. “Keep them in our care and in our prayers.”

Biden deftly navigated the audience from one emotional state to another, and never left them on the sidelines. “You’re the reason why we’re still better positioned than any country in the world to lead the 21st century,” he said. “You never quit on America, and you deserve a president who will never quit on you!

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For months rumors circulated that Biden would be replaced on the ticket by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The president, the rumor went, had decided that Biden was too much trouble, too loose a cannon on the deck of the White House.

Joe Biden’s fiery, passionate speech last night, and his ability to reach the necessary voters that Obama can’t, reveal that rumor (whatever the source) to be what it really was: Wishful thinking.

Image credits: Biden throughout: From DNC pool video feed.

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