VP Joe Biden Addresses Netroots Nation in Detroit
Detroit, Michigan – Vice President Joe Biden addressed the progressive activist Netroots Nation convention in the ballroom of the Cobo Center in Detroit on Thursday, explaining that he was 45 minutes late for his scheduled speech because of the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, shot down over Ukraine earlier in the day.
“About three hundred souls were lost,” Biden said, acknowledging that some of those may have been American citizens. He described the situation as “grave,” saying, “The families need consolation and our prayers.” The Vice President explained that he had been engaged with a national security team, and on the phone with Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko. He promised to share more details when they became available. “We will get answers and take the next steps accordingly.” But for now, he said, the United States has offered the assistance of the experts at the National Transportation Safety Administration, and the Ukraine had accepted the offer. He did not want to speculate until all the facts were in, he said, because “possible repercussions could flow from this, beyond the tragic loss of life.”
Biden touched on a wide range of topics in his prepared remarks, saying that he has learned over his years in politics that “showing up is half the battle.” He thanked those present for their passion, and dedication, and for driving the conversation and the media to talk about progressive issues like marriage equality, and health care as a human right. “Thank you for showing up, long before we were in office,” he said.
“We have to state without apology what we are for, and why,” he continued. “It’s about believing what you say. There’s no reason being in this business if you don’t know what you believe. If everything is equally important to you, then nothing is important to you. You [the audience] are driven by concern for others, rather than self-interest. That is what distinguishes you from others,” he said.
The American worker needs to be respected, Biden went on. He talked about Henry Ford, who during tough times had doubled the salary of his workers. It instilled a sense of loyalty, it reduced turnover, it increased productivity, and the workers “could then afford to go buy Ford cars,” he said. Today, corporations are not sharing the wealth created by the productivity of their own workers, he lamented. “The bargain has been broken.” Fixing that bargain, and shoring up the middle class, he said, is the administration’s top priority.
“I believe that we are at an inflection point,” he went on, remembering a high school physics class. “We have probably reached this point in our history 3 or 4 times. The inflection point is when you’re riding down highway at 60 miles an hour, and you turn the wheel hard suddenly by 10 or 12 degrees… you can never get back on the same path you were on. Things are going to change, because the world changes. So, what are we going to do? Our hands are on the wheel. We get a chance to bend history just a little bit.”
He quoted William Butler Yeats:
“All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.”
The quote, from a political poem called “Easter, 1916” was an interesting choice.
The “change” Yeats referred to was brought about by the Easter Rebellion of 1916 when almost a thousand Irish Republicans revolted, seeking secession from Great Britain to establish an independent Ireland. The insurrection was put down in short order, and many of the leaders were quickly executed before a firing squad. The original rebellion was not widely supported by the people, however the ruthlessness of the British response shook the Irish, and from these violent actions were the catalyst that brought about the creation of the ultranationalist group Sinn Féin. So, there’s that.
“There are fundamental changes taking place in the world, and at home,” he said.
After the Revolution talk that nobody seemed to notice, he began to address issues of violence against women, and rapes and assaults on college campuses. He was interrupted at this time by a group of almost a dozen people from GetEqual and United We Dream, standing in front chanting, “Stop deporting our families!” Biden stopped, leaning in the direction of the protesters so he could hear what they were saying. Then, he nodded. There was applause from the audience. Biden said he wanted to talk about one issue at a time, but the chants went on unabated. He handled the situation skillfully, and began applauding with the audience, indicating that the situation needed to be addressed.
“I respect you and I agree with you,” he said to the protesters. Then turning to the audience, “And you should clap for those young people, because you were all part of a family. Can you imagine the anxiety of coming home every day and wondering if your mother or father will still be there?” The group was eventually escorted out peacefully.
The Vice President, like the car in his inflection point analogy, never got back on track addressing violence against women. He moved forward to discuss the Republican attack on voting rights, “The most precious right we possess is unfettered access to ballot box,” he said. Voting rights aren’t “sexy,” but fair and easy access to the ballot box is one of the most critical issues we face. There have been over 50 pieces of legislation recently designed to restrict our basic right to vote as Americans. “We cannot lose. These guys mean it, and they are not going away.”
The under-discussed issue of climate change got a nod by the VP, who called it “our single greatest challenge.” He said, “If we don’t get going, and get control of climate change, it’s going to mortgage humanity.”
He then moved on to speak of the nature of politics in Washington today, waxing nostalgic about less divisive times.
“You prove that the people of this country are always ahead of their elected officials,” he said.
“When we act as one America, when we view ourselves as one America, that is when we have succeeded.
“The opposition knows that the American people agree with us on policy… The best way for those who oppose our progressive views is to convince the American people that we’re all venal, that Washington is broken. Who does that hurt? The elite don’t walk away because they understand the consequence of government… We can debate without being demeaning. We shouldn’t hesitate to question. We can make sure we are heard, but still demonstrate we’re willing to listen to the other side,” he said. “It’s time for our politics to become as big and grand as our people are.”
He got passionate, raising his voice, “America is not divided, politics has divided the American people!”
Biden closed his remarks by gently reprimanding the group which he referred to as well-educated, and intelligent, by telling them not to underestimate the American people. “Ordinary people, hardworking people are smart,” Biden said. “Do not condescend that they do not know what they need. Collectively, they are smarter than you are.”
“We need you, I need you, the country needs you,” Biden said before walking offstage to a standing ovation. “Never bet against America, it’s never a good bet.”