Vice President Joe Biden addressed the annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) on Wednesday evening,using the occasion to underscore the numerous accomplishments of the Obama Administration. Biden spoke to a room of hundreds of African-American media professionals in a giant ballroom at the Riverside Hilton, which is hosting this year’s annual NABJ convention. The vice president used his signature “everyman” speaking style to heft infectious humor and immediately capture the audience’s attention.
“Understand that in Washington, D.C., a gaffe is when you tell the truth, so be careful — do not tell the truth,” Vice President Biden said to uproarious laughter at the beginning of his speech. Biden — known for speaking so directly at times that he causes political stirs — used that famous penchant for straight talk to boldly portray how much President Obama has done for America. He started by stating what has not worked — GOP policies.
“The two parties are offering starkly different alternatives on how to proceed… most of all on economic policy[.] I don’t have to explain to you what we inherited…. The middle class was in free fall,” Biden stated. “Nine million Americans lost their jobs, $16 trillion dollars in wealth evaporated. Some of the wealth you had in your homes…went up in smoke. At the same time this was happening, the [income of the ] top one percent grew by 275 percent in the last decade to an average of $1.3 million per year. And that wealth didn’t trickle down. There’s no evidence that it did.”
The vice president also recounted how foreign policy under Bush destroyed America’s diplomatic relationships while needlessly endangering the lives of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Romney was held accountable for believing the types of policies implemented by former President Bush should be continued if he is elected, despite the detrimental results. The vice president then detailed how he and President Obama have led the country in a vastly different direction.
“We stabilized U.S. banks, which was about as popular as legalizing rattle snakes in downtown New Orleans,” Biden said to audience chuckles. “You think I’m kidding?,” he affably added.
“We unfroze the credit markets,” the VP continued, “rescued the automobile industry, and instead of losing a million jobs in the auto industry, we have created 200,000 new jobs since then, with General Motors once again leading the world, and Chrysler as the fastest growing automobile maker in the nation. Instead of a continuing hemorrhage in manufacturing jobs, the economy has created over half a million new manufacturing jobs — the fastest growth in manufacturing since the mid-90s. We passed some of the toughest Wall Street regulations in history.”
Likely tailoring his previously-delivered stump speech for the NABJ, Biden added: “We passed the health care reform bill, which expands access to affordable care to 30 million people, and I’m not being solicitous to this audience, but eight million African-Americans who had no access now have access.”
Biden also reminded listeners that President Obama’s expansion of Pell Grants will maintain greater access to higher education for low income students, a large percentage of whom are black.
While calling de facto GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney an “honorable” man, Vice President Biden made it clear that a future in which he becomes president would be one in which all Americans would lose the upward mobility promised by middle class life.
Biden recounted in detail his own middle class upbringing, which while studded with some economic crises, enabled him to work hard to become the man he is today. The VP became emotional as he drove home the message of the Obama campaign’s desire to restore and expand access to greater opportunities for Americans from all economic strata. This would become impossible if Romney is elected and follows through on his stated plans, the vice president stressed.
He invited participants of the NABJ convention to consider what is at stake in the 2012 presidential election. “This ain’t your father’s Republican party,” Biden said alluding to the austere plans the GOP has outlined for America’s future.
“Let me leave you with a quote from a man who just passed away,” Biden said, telling a story that set up his closing remarks. “His name was Kevin White. He was the mayor of Boston… He was the Barack Obama of mayors back in 1970… Keep it in mind as you judge us, and as you report on us.”
During a period in 1973 when the mayor was having a tough time, “He said, ‘Folks, look. Don’t compare me to the almighty,” Biden recounted, “Compare me to the alternative.’ We’re the best alternative now.” At these words, the crowd rose to its feet with enthusiastic cheers.
Taking in his standing ovation, Vice President Joe Biden affirmed to the room of black reporters, “That’s what this race is about. May God protect our troops.” He then left the stage with a hearty, “Thank you.”
Biden’s use of specific numbers to bring focus to the benefits of President Obama’s leadership marks a tactical turning point in the re-election campaign. President Obama has been seen as reluctant to tout his victories in the past, but the vice president makes the perfect pitch man by contrast, expertly selling the Obama presidency with vigor.
Also of interest was the choice to deploy the VP to address an African-American audience instead of a black surrogate for the president. Clearly, Biden’s ability to connect viscerally with all Americans based on common working and middle class roots allows the president’s message to resonate across racial lines. Time will tell regarding whether this approach also influences swing voters.