Welcome to our continuing coverage of Netroots Nation 2014 in Detroit, Michigan. This afternoon, for the first time in the history of the convention (which began in 2006), the Vice President of the United States will be speaking to the thousands of activists who reunite every year to coordinate the building of a stronger progressive movement in the United States and around the world.
The speech is Biden’s third stop of the day. Previously he attended an event for the Michigan Democratic Coordinated Campaign Committee at the Westin Book Cadillac. He then visited the Step IT Up America program at Wayne County Community College with Mayor Michael Duggan. His speech at Netroots Nation will be his last official event of the day before returning to the District of Columbia.
We are currently waiting for Biden to arrive. He’s late, but there’s apparently a very good reason for that. Most attendees have at least a smartphone or tablet to keep them occupied, if not table companions.
UPDATE, 4:15 PM: The motorcade has arrived and we should be getting started in a few minutes. What follows will be a recap of the Vice President’s speech.
Biden was introduced by ProgressNow’s Arshad Hasan, who repeatedly praised the vice president for his candor and determination, before asking the convention to give the vice president a roaring welcome. And the crowd certainly did.
A jovial Biden made his way to the podium as he received a raucous standing ovation. Thanking Hasan for his introduction, he joked that he could “almost hear the press salivating.” Addressing his remarks on Meet the Press supporting marriage equality, which Hasan had referred to and which preempted President Obama’s ABC News interview on the subject, he said his comments were not planned, but he likes to be direct when he gets questions.
Biden told attendees that what he loves about the netroots is our passion. Discussing the recent advances made by advocates for LGBT civil rights, Biden said he didn’t free the LGBT community, they and many decent straight people deserved the credit for the forward momentum on marriage equality and civil rights.
Biden explained that he was nearly an hour late arriving for his speech because he had been dealing with the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which went down in Ukraine today. Some three hundred lives were lost, and the plane was apparently deliberately shot down. Biden explained that he had been on the phone with the Ukrainian President regarding the tragedy. A passenger manifest has not confirmed yet, but plane may have been carrying American citizens.
Shifting gears, Biden said that one thing he has learned in his many years in politics that showing up is half the battle. He thanked the netroots for showing up and making change, and for reframing the debate… for example, helping Americans recognize that healthcare is a basic right and not a privilege. “We share a commitment to the values that made this country exceptional,” Biden told the audience. He added that when he gets asked abroad what makes America great, he responds that it is our sense of fairness and caring for others.
In a rebuke to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Biden proceeded to declare that he takes a back seat to no one on national defense. But he says that it is just as important to feed people in our country as it is to defend America.
Biden compared himself to Mikey from the Life cereal commercials when it comes his role brokering deals in Congress, which brought laughter from the crowd. He stressed the need for the progressive movement to define what is for and what it wants to accomplish both in the short and long term.
“We have to state without apology what we are for and why. If everything is equally important to you, then nothing is important to you… We have to be crystal clear on what the fundamental principles that this democracy is built on and stick to those fundamentals. Which includes LGBT rights [and] equal pay.”
“The abuse of power is the worst sin that can be committed. And the worst is for a man raising his hand to a woman including sexual assault on college campuses.”
Biden also told the convention that it is important for Americans to have unfettered access to the ballot box. “This is a fight that may not be on top of everyone’s agenda, but it is a very important fight,” he said.
Touching on the need for environmental protection, Biden emphatically stated, “Climate change is real… if we don’t control it we will be mortgaging the future of humanity.” He expressed confidence that America could lead on tackling the crisis. The people with the courage to move are the ones who are fueling America’s dynamism, giving the U.S. credibility on the world stage.
Commenting on income inequality, Biden reaffirmed his belief that every American deserves a fair shot at a job. Biden told Netroots Nation he believes in a nation of earned income as well as unearned income. Workers need to be respected as much as Wall Street investors. However, many employers are not respecting their workers, who have become the most productive workers in the world. They are not sharing in the wealth created by that productivity. The bargain between worker and employer is broken today, Biden lamented. He added that fixing that bargain is the President’s top priority, as well as his.
“When the middle class loses its faith in the system, we lose the glue that keeps the political and economic systems stable,” Biden said. “When we act as one America, we succeed. The middle class needs to know that when they put in they get included in the deal and not cut out. The poor need to know that when they try, there is a chance they can succeed.”
“In a country as big and as diverse as America there will be divisions. How do you define an American other than by a set of principles they believe in?”
“But our politics have become so cynical, so corrosive, that the American people are sick and tired of politics today.”
Nevertheless, Biden said we cannot give up.
“We can rise to what the American people demand. We can debate without being demeaning. We can make sure we are heard and demonstrate that we are willing to listen. The American people aren’t divided [and didn’t create the divisions that are portrayed in our media]; American politics have divided America.”
Biden said he has always been an optimist and that won’t change.
“It is within our power to innovate new energy technologies. Imagine not calling abuse ‘domestic’. Imagine a country that not only leads by example of power, but by power of our example. Your energy and passion will continue to be the force that drives debate. The American people have always been ahead (civil rights, for example). We need you. The country needs you.”
Biden’s closing thought was an appeal to the convention to believe in America and the American people. “Ordinary people, hardworking people are smart,” Biden said. “Do not condescend that they do not know what they need.”