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Senator Joe Biden, Democratic VP nominee, gives a speech at the Democratic National Jewish Convention in Washington, D.C.
In Their Own Words

Senator Joe Biden

--- transcribed by Margo Brenner

Joe Biden is the Senior Senator from Delaware, currently serving his sixth term. He now chairs the Committee on Foreign Relations, and the Judiciary Committee.

Shortly after being first elected to the Senate in 1972, his wife and daughter died in a traffic accident. His two sons Beau and Hunter recovered and Biden commuted each day between Washington DC and Wilmington, Delaware to take care of them. His son Beau was elected Attorney General of Delaware in 2006. Beau continues to serve as a Capitain in the Delaware National Guard.

Joe Biden was a candidate in the 1988 and 2008 Presidential elections. Last year, he spoke at the National Jewish Democratic Council's Washington Policy Conference, this year after being named Democratic Vice-Presidential Candidate he returned to address the NJDC again at their second Washington Policy Conference.

We have to ignore all the malarkey, ignore the distraction, ignore the emails and get behind Barack Obama – straight up, folks. I’m going to be very blunt with you.

What I’d like to talk to you about is to thank you all for what you’re doing to fight -- this is a very strong word – but what’s basically been a pretty successful smear campaign these guys are running with some of the ads they’re running.

I think most of you know me; at least those of you who are a little bit older know me. I’ve been hanging around here a long, long time and I hope no one wonders where my heart is. The first trip I ever took abroad was to Israel and I met back in those days with Prime Minister Golda Meir, which was one of the high points of my career. And she had sitting next to her, next to me in front of her desk, a guy named Rabin, who was her aid at the time.

Since then I’ve had a chance to meet with and get to know every Israeli prime minister – all nine – along with many of you on this stage. And you, Mr. Ambassador, we fought that AWACs sale to the Saudis. We fought the sale of sophisticated weapons to the Arab states. I was the original co-sponsor of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act, which banned any U.S. assistance to a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority. And I, like many of you in this room, defended Israel’s right to target terrorists who intend to strike in Israel.

I’ve spoken out against anti-Semitism both in Europe and in Arab countries, and I’ve been very blunt about it.

Why do I tell you all this? It’s not just to say, “I, I, I.” I want to make an absolutely clear, simply stated proposition to you. I’ve spent 25 years of my career dealing with issues related to Israel. My support for Israel begins in my stomach, goes to my heart and ends up in my head. And I promise you, I guarantee you, I would not join Barack Obama’s ticket as Vice President had I had any doubt, even the slightest doubt, that he shares the same commitment to Israel that I share. I guarantee that, it’s that simple. That is a fact.

I hope we are able to put to rest some of the stuff that’s been going around, particularly in a Republican counterpart Jewish organization. They actually went after me, saying that I threatened to cut off aid to Israel – things I never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever did. But here’s the point I want to make: that Barack not only made that commitment to me, Barack has voted that commitment during his years in the United State Senate. Barack made that commitment when he visited Israel. Barack is on the record – and it is more than on the record – he understands, he gets it.

The distinction between the two tickets is clearer than it has been in any time in recent history.

Remember, eight years ago, there was a man who said that he was different, he was not a typical Republican. He called himself a reformer. He admitted to his party that his party made a few mistakes, that it was wrong about a few things and he promised to do what he’d done in Texas – work with Democrats. He was going to bring honor and dignity to the White House, and integrity, and he was going to build a compassionate society.

You all know that candidate was George W. Bush. You all remember that.

We see how that story has ended: eight straight months of joblessness, 604,000 losing their jobs though the month of August and not a whole lot of positive prospects in sight; 46 million Americans without health insurance; another 46 million wondering whether they can keep their health insurance; foreclosures at the highest rate since anytime since the Great Depression; home values tumbling, average incomes down; the middle class under siege; everything going up from gas prices to grocery prices and there doesn’t seem to be anything that leads people in the middle class to believe that things are going to change.

I’ve been around a while. I’ve been there through seven Presidents. I don’t recall anytime when the middle class has been more apprehensive – more apprehensive about the prospects for their children, more apprehensive about their own prospects.

We also, in the mean time, have a military that has been stretched so thin in two wars and multiple deployments that we only have one combat brigade in the entire United States military for contingencies other than where we are now engaged. I’ve not seen the nation as polarized as I’ve seen it now. There is a culture in Washington where the very few and the very powerful have a seat at the table and everybody else is on the menu but no one else is focused.

Eight years later we have another Republican candidate who has been my friend for 32 years, but he’s telling us the same thing. He’s making the same commitments. This time, he’s saying it will be different. He’s saying that this time country will be put before party, that there is going to be a change in tone, he’ll reach across the aisle, he’s going to change the Republican Party. I love how Republican nominees are always going to change the Republican Party. He’s going to change how Washington works.

Well, folks, we’ve seen that movie before and you know from experience that the sequel is always worse than the original.

Name me one single substantive difference on a major policy issue John McCain has with President Bush.

On all the important issues, and I mean this sincerely, name me one single substantive difference on a major policy issue John McCain has with President Bush. It doesn’t make him a bad guy, but it sure doesn’t make him an agent of change.

Ladies and gentlemen, in my humble opinion, John McCain is profoundly out of touch with the dilemma that average Americans are facing, and nowhere has his failed philosophy been more exposed than during the current financial crisis. At 9 a.m. last Monday [September 15, 2008] John held a press conference where he said, and I quote, “The fundamentals of the economy are strong.” At 11 a.m., John held a press conference, saying, “We’re in an economic crisis.” We Catholics call that an epiphany. The problem was, it was only a political epiphany. It wasn’t a substantive policy one. John didn’t change any policy, he didn’t back off of any of his proscriptions on the economy – he changed his rhetoric.

If John actually realized what was going on, and he felt it in his gut as well as he articulated it in his voice, he would be forced to admit that the economic philosophy that he has been espousing -- George Bush’s philosophy, not because it is George Bush’s philosophy, there’s no difference in philosophy – is as bankrupt as Lehman Brothers is right now. It is literally bankrupt.

If John cares so much now about what he calls greed – and isn’t it fascinating that it isn’t Democrats calling it greed on Wall Street and throwing everybody under the bus, it’s John McCain, John McCain. The ultimate populist argument is being used by John McCain. Well, if John McCain is so concerned about what he now characterizes as – which I now think is an exaggeration, quite frankly – if John McCain in fact is so certain about that, where was John a week ago, where was John a month ago, where was John a year ago, where was he five years ago?

Well, I’ll tell you where he was. He was bragging to those same Wall Street executives, and I can supply you all the quotes and sources for this, he was bragging up on Wall Street – to the very people he now calls greedy – about how he was going to shred the regulations that remained, what we call consumer protections that were built into the system.

And when it comes to health care, the philosophy, the same philosophy John talked about in terms of the industry, John now want to apply to the health care industry.

I want to read you part of an article that John wrote that was out this month in a major magazine, an actuarial magazine of all things, but a very well-respected journal, and I’m quoting: “Opening up the health care market to vigorous nationwide competition as we have done over the last decade in banking, will provide the choice of more innovative products, less burden with the worst excesses of state regulation like subprime mortgages.”

I’m serious. Think about this. John is talking about how he is going to change, he’s all of a sudden become the great regulator, and literally one week ago, one week ago, John published this article. He wants to do for the health industry what he did for banking.

“Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget and I will tell you what you value.”

John wants your health care to be viewed in a very different way. It seems to me that’s not a prescription for health care, it’s a prescription for malpractice. You know, my father had a saying, he’d say, “Don’t tell me what you value, champ, show me your budget and I will tell you what you value.”

Well, look at the budget that Barack and I are going to propose and have proposed and you’ll see instead of increases and tax breaks for many of you who deserve it– and one thing I’d like to make clear, wealthy folk are just as patriotic as poor folk – and I mean that because one of the disagreements I have with some in my party, there’s this thing that somehow if you do well you’re not as patriotic as some other folks. We haven’t asked much of anybody, though; we haven’t asked much of anybody. And so we believe that what we should be doing now in this time of some crisis, where the middle class is hanging on by their fingernails, is we think we should direct the tax cuts that amount to in our case over $100 billion, we think those tax cuts should be directed to middle class folks. And no one, no one but John McCain continues to misrepresent it. No one doubts it, no serious news organization, no serious econometric model. We think there should be tax cuts to help people pay for their gas and their groceries, to help them pay to keep their kid in college.

For seniors making less than $50,000 a year, they should pay no taxes at all. They don’t have to file at all. Why? It’s about what we value. We value seniors being able to stay in their homes, maintain their independence, be in a position where they can, in fact, live out their lives the way they want to live it out.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re not going to spend $15 billion. Some of you know people who benefit from this, but it’s not needed. I come from the corporate state of Delaware, as they say, but the notion of deferred income, deferred profit with foreign investment taking your company abroad, we shouldn’t be encouraging people to do that. We should be spending that $15 billion in tax expenditures to pay people to keep their jobs here, to expand here.

Ladies and gentlemen, on energy, the Exxon/Mobils of the world – and by the way, their not bad guys – but the Exxon/Mobils of the world have made $600 billion in profit since 2001. As my mother would say, “God love them.” Six hundred billion. The only reason I make that point is they’re the last folks who need another $4 billion a year in tax cuts to encourage them to drill.

I asked the chairman of the board of Exxon – he was under oath – I asked him, “Do you need that additional tax cut?” His answer was, somewhat begrudgingly, “No, I don’t.”

We now provide in the tax code $30 billion in tax cuts over 10 years for the oil industry based upon how they benefit versus other industries that need the tax cut. We give the same one to them, $30 billion. Just imagine, imagine if over the next 10 years , we had that $4 billion they want to add, which would be $40 billion, and the $30 billion, imagine we put $70 billion into creating new green jobs and investing in alternative energy in a place where we can literally change the way we look at it. Imagine we invest that money in giving tax breaks to the auto industry so they can finally begin to retool so they can make efficient cars.

Ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to health care, we’re not going to tax health care benefits you’re going to get from your employer, but that’s what John proposes. John -- and most of you are really smart folks out there, you’ve been around, you didn’t fall off, as my grandfather used to say, the turnip wagon yesterday – but the fact is you know what is laying out there. There is a serious economic proposal that has been on the table for the last 40 years and that is that there is no economic reason why you would not treat the average health insurance policy, which is worth about $12,000, supplied by most employers, that’s what it comes out to, why not treat that as income? Just direct income. So, someone making 50 grand, add the average 12 to the 50, you’re going to get taxed on 62. It’s not a bad economic theory, it’s just a dumb economic theory right now. And what it’s going to do -- and what John talks about, and what Gov. Palin talks about is how we’re going to raise the taxes on the middle class. Let me tell you something factually: they are the only, the only party going to raise taxes and it will be over the next three years – over $1 trillion on the middle class -- if we tax health care benefits. That’s a direct tax. One trillion dollars, $3.6 trillion over the next 10 years.

We’re going to guarantee that all families have the same health care policy that I have.

What should we be doing about health care? We’re going to guarantee that all families have the same health care policy that I have. You say, “Joe, how are you going to do that?” Well, by the way, it’s basic how we’re going to do that. Anybody on a sliding scale can buy into the same program that the federal health insurance program is. Why would anybody want to do that? Because there will be 40-50 million people bargaining for the health care benefits in there. And we get to choose from among 240 plans. And the reason it’s such a good idea and our right-wing friends are going to have such a hard time calling it socialism is that now, for 17 million people it’s been working for a long, long time.

So, ladies and gentlemen, the point I want to make here is there are solutions to these problems. They’re not beyond our reach. They’re not easy, but they’re not beyond our reach.

When Barack Obama asked me to be his running mate, I literally had three questions. The one question I want to speak to today, I asked him whether or not he really meant, did he really mean, was he really prepared, to trust the American people – I know this sounds corny, but listen to it because it’s really the fundamental difference that exists in politics today – asked are you really prepared to trust the American people enough that you’re willing to insist on fundamental change, the fundamental changes you’ve been talking about? Because none of this stuff is going to be easy – energy, health care, education, foreign policy – none of it is going to be easy. None. None. And these guys have just made the game a lot harder by the consequences of their economic policy on Wall Street.

Are we going to have the nerve – and my question to Barack was, “Are you really going to go in, in your first term, and challenge the American people?” When he said yes, I said yes. And the reason for that is I really believe – I’m too long in the tooth, folks, and I’ve got a relatively good job being chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee; Presidents have to go through me to get things done. As Vice President, they can go over me to get things done, so it meant a lot to me and I wanted to know. And the reason I said yes is that everything that he’s done in his campaign, everything he did as a state senator, everything he’s done as a United States senator, everything about his life as I know it, has confirmed to me that he’ll not only demand the best of himself, but he’ll demand the best of the country, because he trusts it. He trusts the instinct. And I know some of you say, “Hey, Joe, wait a minute, we’ve had a bite out of that one, that trust thing.” When, when in our history, when in any moment of economic or foreign policy crisis have the American people ever, ever, ever, ever let the country down? When?

The next President and the extraordinary, extraordinary problems he’ll face – and I say he because there are two candidates who are both men running for President – but I believe Barack Obama, I really believe Barack Obama will be that agent of change. These extraordinary challenges we face are real, but, folks, and I’m not naïve, I’ve been here through seven Presidents, the next President of the United States is going to have the most extraordinary opportunity since Franklin Roosevelt to change the direction of the world. Not make it utopia; but get it back on track and to lift this country up in a way we haven’t been in a while.

I ask you to just imagine.

I ask you to just imagine – and I know when I talk to sophisticated audiences and I say things like this, they think, “What’s this all of a sudden? Did he fall off the turnip truck? This sounds like pretty naïve stuff.” But just imagine, just imagine if we have a Supreme Court, and the next President is going to get one to three appointees, imagine if we have a Supreme Court that once again supports environmental protection, civil rights, women’s rights, just imagine. It will be there for 25 years. It will not last as long as our administration. It will far outlive it. And imagine if we don’t.

Imagine. Imagine a country where we generate 20 percent of our energy, which is totally in what my brother would say is our “wheelhouse” to be able to do. Generate 20 percent of our energy from renewable energy, like wind and solar and bio-fuels.

Imagine a country where we invest in technology that develops automobiles that don’t pollute the environment.

Imagine an administration that understands there’s actually such a thing as global warming. Just imagine that.

Imagine an energy policy that frees us from the tyranny – and no audience understands this more than you – the tyranny of the oligarchs of oil creating this circumstance where the funding for the very people we worry about most come from. Imagine that we have an economy and energy policy that creates five million new jobs by investing a billion or $500 million a year in new technologies.

Ladies and gentlemen, imagine a country that’s once again respected around the world.

Imagine a country that actually believes in science. Not a joke. That insists and invests, invests once again in research and development and supports the healing and the hope that stem cell research and other major research could bring.

Folks, imagine a country that is willing to rebuild the infrastructure of our country – the roads, the sewers, airports, the ports – the very thing that will keep businesses here because its economically profitable to be in the circumstance where you can ship your product cheaper than you can now with a great deal more certainty.

Imagine a country that is willing to invest in tomorrow’s infrastructure – universal development and universal access to broadband, cars that run on hydrogen.

Folks, imagine a country literally, we don’t have to make this up, imagine a country where we have to go to war only when it is necessary.

And imagine an administration that will responsibly end this war in Iraq. We will end this war.

It’s almost like people forget there’s actually a war going on. A lot of families have children there; husbands, wives, sons, daughters, mothers, fathers. Four thousand one hundred sixty dead; 30,324 wounded; over 14,000 critically wounded requiring medical health care for the rest of their lives and their life expectancy is expected to exceed 35 years and as the Nobel Laureate [Joseph E. ] Stiglitz said, the cost to the American taxpayer if we keep our sacred commitment over that period of time would be $600 billion just to care for that cadre of people. Ladies and gentlemen, a war that is costing us $10 billion a month while the Iraqis sit on $80 billion of oil surplus.

Imagine a President who won’t wait until his seventh year in office to discover the need for American leadership in the Middle East peace process. A President who will call on the Arab states now to begin normalizing relations with Israel or there are consequences for their failure to do so.

Imagine a country where everyone who is qualified can go to the college they can afford, where young people graduate from college and not graduate 30, 40, 50, 60, 80 thousand dollars in debt. I love our generation, we talk about working our way through college – give me a break. I worked my way through college when tuition at the University of Delaware was $350 a semester. My sons graduated and my daughter graduated with their average debt – and mind you I did everything I possibly could on my salary as a Senator – on average they graduated $65,000 in debt; one $112,000 because he made the mistake of going to a law school that was Yale. Here they are with me doing everything, signing all the notes, borrowing all the money I could and they’re graduating 110, 85 and 42 thousand dollars in debt.

Well, how do families do it that don’t have my income from a Senate salary?

Folks, imagine if we broadened the notion of national service to go beyond military service, getting millions of young Americans to serve not just in the military, but in our communities and in our schools, and giving them tuition as long as they volunteer to do this.

It’s time America leads again.

It’s time America leads again. Lead by the power of their example and not just the example of our power. That was always the source of the great power of this country. I think Barack Obama, and I really believe this or I wouldn’t have done this, I believe Barack Obama will be that bridge between what we imagine and what we can actually achieve. I think he’ll appeal, as we have tried and as you have tried, I think he’ll appeal to our better angels in America. The Obama/Biden administration will speak to our hopes, not just to our fears. Americans always respond to hopes because we have faith. As corny as it sounds, we have faith in the American people; we have faith in you. And by the way, this is not a blind faith, it’s a faith based on the journey and history of this country. It’s a faith based on those generations that have gone before us and looking at what they’ve done in every time of crisis. Our greatest presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Roosevelt to John Kennedy – they all challenged us to embrace change and now it seems to me to be our responsibility to meet that challenge.

Ladies and gentlemen, my father used to have an expression, “Champ, when you get knocked down, get up. Just get up.” Well, millions of Americans have been knocked down and I think it is time as Americans together – together – to get back up. Our people are too good, our debt to our parents and grandparents is too great and our obligation to our children is too sacred. These are extraordinary times; this is an extraordinary election. The American people are ready now; I’m ready now; Barack Obama is ready. I think it is his time. I think it is our time.

We Catholics are always cribbing things from the Jewish faith. The 92nd Psalm we use as a communion in our church and it goes like this, it says, ”And may he lift you up on eagles’ wings and bear you on the breath of dawn and make the light to shine upon you.” Folks, as corny as it sounds, it’s within our capacity to lift us up, to let the light shine on all corners of the country. People have been left behind. This is not rocket science; this is simple, straightforward decency, calling on and appealing to the American people.

I really do think the country is ready. I’m absolutely convinced of it. If I’m wrong, we’re in deep trouble, but if I’m right, if I’m right, we’re going to be part of a new day like we haven’t seen in the last 75 years.

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