I’ve known of Joe Biden’s enthusiasm for making stemwinding speeches since August 1974, when the freshman senator from Delaware stumped in Winnebago County for fellow Democrat Doug Aurand, then seeking his first re-election as county treasurer.
I’ve known of Joe Biden’s enthusiasm for making stemwinding speeches since August 1974, when the freshman senator from Delaware stumped in Winnebago County for fellow Democrat Doug Aurand, then seeking his first re-election as county treasurer. Aurand had thrown a fund-raiser picnic at Camp Hillcrest, one of many private parks that lined the Kishwaukee River shore in those days.
Neither Aurand nor I remember a thing Biden said that day. It was, after all, a park full of blue collar Democrats drinking draft beer on a hot summer weekend.
Still, “I was very impressed by him, because he was young, and bright, and that he came 1,000 miles to Winnebago County because he wanted to become known throughout the nation,” Aurand said as he thumbed through his scrapbook of political memories.
Biden, whose wife and daughter were killed in a car crash shortly after his 1972 election, did become known throughout the country, and while he didn’t win the gold medal of the presidency in 1988 or 2008, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama tapped him Friday for the silver of the vice presidency. They do have to win on Nov. 4 before the medal ceremony, though.
Saturday, the Democrats officially rolled out “Obama/Biden — The Ticket.” The Old State Capitol, where Obama and Biden spoke for just 40 minutes between the two of them, was also where Obama announced his candidacy in February 2007. The speakers’ platform Saturday was again in front of the capitol where Abraham Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech on June 16, 1858, the year he ran for the U.S. Senate. The nation could not survive half slave and half free, Lincoln warned.
Illinois’ senior senator, Dick Durbin, said he’s known that Biden was among the three finalists for about three weeks. He said Biden is a great choice.
“We just doubled our fire power with the addition of Joe to our ticket,” Durbin said as he made his way to the TV interviewing area.
Biden, 65, is to be the counterweight to the lightly experienced Obama. Biden chairs the Foreign Relations Committee, especially important in the wake of the newly minted Russian-Georgian conflict in Eastern Europe. Obama was vacationing in Hawaii when Georgian troops invaded the breakaway province of South Ossetia, which provoked a Russian counterattack. Republican John McCain picked up political points by making strong statements against the Russians while Obama surfed.
Saturday, the Democrats served notice on McCain that they intend to put the currently tied race in the win column. In introduction, Obama called Pennsylvania-born Biden “that scrappy kid from Scranton” who will “give us some real straight talk.”
Biden began slowly, invoking the spirit of Lincoln: “President Lincoln said put your feet in the right place and stand firm. I’m in the right place today in Springfield, and I am standing firm,” Biden said.
Then his volume built steadily as he launched a stinging attack on McCain, whom he called his close friend.
Economic woes “aren’t something John McCain has to worry about. He worries about which of seven kitchen tables to sit at,” Biden said to laughter. McCain owns between four and seven or eight homes.
“We don’t have to have four more years of George W. Bush,” said Biden, who repeated McCain quotes aligning the Arizona senator with Bush.
“You can’t change America when you say the Bush administration (has) made great progress economically. You can’t change America when you signed on to Bush’s privatization of Social Security.
“You can’t change America when you say ‘No one has supported Bush in Iraq more than I have,’” Biden said. “And you can’t change America when you know that your first four years as president will look exactly like the last eight years of George Bush’s presidency,” he shouted, reminding the partisan crowd that McCain voted for Bush administration policies 95 percent of the time.
“This may be our last chance to reclaim the land we love, to restore America’s soul,” he warned.
The hot, muggy afternoon was not without its gaffes, a Biden trademark. At one point he called Obama “Barack America.” In his introduction, Obama referred to Biden as “the next president of the United States of America.” He quickly corrected himself.
Two Obama supporters in the crowd of thousands expressed cautious optimism about the choice of Biden.
”I’m surprised,” said Steven Richie of Springfield. “Some of my friends and I thought it would be Evan Bayh,” the senator from Indiana. “But I’m pleased because of Biden’s experience,” Richie said.
Nancy Tucker of Petersburg said that she’s “delighted” that Biden is the veep choice, “because he brings to the table all the strengths we can hope for, and shows another aspect of Obama’s desire to be a good president. He’s not afraid to surround himself with people of experience.” Still, Tucker also believes “that Hillary would make a great president.”
Reach Political Editor Chuck Sweeny at 815-987-1372 or email@example.com.