Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Biden walked up to the lectern before an audience of nearly 2,000 in Flathead High School, and told the group gathered there they were “crazy” for crowding into a hot gymnasium to hear him speak on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
“A magnificent day like this, in the most magnificent place in the world,” the Delaware senator said. “I’d be outside, hiking or playing golf or something.”
But Biden stayed put, and over the next 45 minutes gave a rousing stump speech focused on healthcare, the economy, education, and praise for his party’s presidential nominee, Barack Obama.
“Anybody who tells you (Obama) is this sort of crazy, liberal guy who no one is going to be able to work with, it’s simply, simply not true,” Biden said. “This guy’s tapped into a feeling, a yearning of the American people he shares, that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my 35 years in the U.S. Senate.”
Biden did not mention his long-time colleague in the U.S. Senate, John McCain, until 30 minutes into his remarks, when he laid into the Republican presidential nominee for his energy, tax and healthcare policies.
“If I walked from here to Bozeman I don’t think I’d run into a single person who thought the economy was doing well, unless I ran into John McCain,” Biden said.
Of Biden’s counterpart, Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, he praised her acceptance speech last week at the Republican National Convention, but criticized topics unmentioned by her, like healthcare and foreign policy.
“I thought Gov. Palin gave one heck of a political speech,” Biden said. “But her silence on the issues was deafening.”
“God love John, but he didn’t do much better,” Biden added about McCain’s acceptance speech.
Biden spoke little about current U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Instead he painted a picture of an ailing economy – with eight months of job losses, unemployment above 6 percent, and a federal bailout underway of mortgage banks Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – along with a broken healthcare system imposing significant difficulty on the middle class.
“It’s about your dignity, it’s about your identity,” Biden said. “What we underestimate about the health insurance issue is the anxiety that it causes.”
Biden hit on a number of policy points, including tax cuts for the middle class while allowing the tax cuts enacted by the Bush administration to expire for people making more than $250,000 annually.
“The wealthy are as patriotic as the poor,” Biden said. “We just don’t ask anything of them.”
He also touched on a college affordability plan, universal health care, and complimented Montana for figuring out how to produce energy while accommodating the environment. As the crowd cheered, Biden pledged that he and Obama would invest $150 billion into renewable energy research, spurring an industry that could create “5 million green jobs that can’t be exported.”
Biden noted that he was campaigning in an area of the country traditionally considered a Republican stronghold. In Flathead County in 2004, George Bush beat John Kerry 68 to 30 percent. But Biden noted Obama has paid five visits to Montana so far, and held up the recent success of Democrats like Gov. Brian Schweitzer and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester as proof of changing political winds in Montana, while saving his deepest praise for legendary Senate leader Mike Mansfield, who he called, “the best guy I ever served with.”
Recalling the darkest moments of American history like World War II and the Civil War, Biden sought to frame the current election as one in which, through foreign and domestic policy, the U.S. cannot afford to continue on its current trajectory for four more years.
“At every critical moment in our history, we seem to have delivered to us the right person, with the right temperament, at the right time,” Biden said. “Barack Obama is the right man.”
After the speech, Melissa Werner of Kalispell, said she was impressed by the policy details Biden laid out. She remains undecided about whom to vote for, and said she has felt disillusioned with both parties for some time.
“I think he mentioned all the major issues that we need to deal with in this country,” she said, but questioned Biden’s description of a $4,000 tax credit for college. It’s an idea that’s been tried before, she added, and proven unsuccessful.
Diane Keen, of Whitefish, said she considers herself an Independent. The last Republican president she voted for was Ronald Reagan, but said she has been an Obama supporter since he entered the race, and praised Biden’s “character and honesty.”
“(Biden) may be old Washington to some, but he’s got experience,” Keen said.
Shortly after Biden’s remarks, Montana GOP Chairman Erik Iverson described the McCain-Palin ticket as two westerners running against two liberal Democrats from back east, and hammered Biden and Obama on gun rights and energy exploration.
“The Obama-Biden team is probably the most anti-gun ticket ever to run for the presidency,” Iverson said. “Montana Republicans and, I think, Montanans in general are going to embrace the McCain-Palin ticket as one that’s good for Montana and good for the West.”
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