HELLO, SPRINGFIELD…. The event on the steps of the old Illinois Capitol wrapped up a little while ago, and we got a chance to see Barack Obama and Joe Biden, side by side, for the first time. Other than Biden referring to Obama as “Barack America” at one point, it seemed to go off without a hitch. (If you’re going to screw up Obama’s name, I have to say, “Barack America” is probably the least problematic way to do it.)
Obama’s introduction suggested a genuine affection for Biden, and Obama told a story about Biden’s background that a lot of people may not have known.
“[Biden] he picked himself up, worked harder than the other guy, and got elected to the Senate — a young man with a family and a seemingly limitless future.
“Then tragedy struck. Joe’s wife Neilia and their little girl Naomi were killed in a car accident, and their two boys were badly hurt. When Joe was sworn in as a Senator, there was no ceremony in the Capitol — instead, he was standing by his sons in the hospital room where they were recovering. He was 30 years old.
“Tragedy tests us — it tests our fortitude and it tests our faith. Here’s how Joe Biden responded. He never moved to Washington. Instead, night after night, week after week, year after year, he returned home to Wilmington on a lonely Amtrak train when his Senate business was done. He raised his boys — first as a single dad, then alongside his wonderful wife Jill, who works as a teacher. He had a beautiful daughter. Now his children are grown and Joe is blessed with five grandchildren. He instilled in them such a sense of public service that his son, Beau, who is now Delaware’s Attorney General, is getting ready to deploy to Iraq. And he still takes that train back to Wilmington every night. Out of the heartbreak of that unspeakable accident, he did more than become a Senator — he raised a family. That is the measure of the man standing next to me. That is the character of Joe Biden.”
Obama added, “Joe Biden is what so many others pretend to be — a statesman with sound judgment who doesn’t have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong.” I can’t imagine who he might have been referring to.
Biden, meanwhile, did exactly what he needed to do — bear witness to Obama’s strengths and hammer away at John McCain.
By any reasonable measure, Biden isn’t the orator Obama is, but a) we knew that; and b) that’s not the role for which he’s been cast.
It’s pretty easy to guess which of the sound-bites is going to get picked up tonight. After describing the economic difficulties facing so many millions of Americans, Biden said, “Ladies and gentlemen, if your kitchen table is like mine, you sit there at night after you’ve put the kids to bed and you talk about what you need, you talk about how much you’re worried about being able to pay the bills. Well, ladies and gentleman, that’s not a worry John McCain will have to worry about…. He’ll have to figure out which of the seven kitchen tables to sit at.”
This was almost certainly his biggest applause line.
But it wasn’t Biden’s only shot across McCain’s bow. Biden read (and re-read) quotes from McCain about how much he agrees with Bush. Every criticism of the current administration came as a rejection of “Bush-McCain.” Biden said the “harsh truth” is that “you cannot change America” when you vote with Bush “95% of the time.” Biden emphasized that McCain is a friend, but he explained how disappointed he was to see McCain “gave in to the right wing of his political party, and gave in to the swift boat politics that he once so deplored.” He said McCain is wrong on everything from Iraq to Social Security.
He came across as a fighter. I’m glad; Obama needs one.
Biden wasn’t polished — he used the word “literally” excessively — but he emphasized populist themes, articulated a compelling rejection of the status quo, and sounded every bit the “scrappy kid from Scranton who beat the odds.”
What’d you think?
Update: If you missed the event and wanted to watch it, MSNBC has the video of both speeches.