While most of the announced presidential candidates are offering details about some of their policy proposals, Joe Biden, the newest 2020 candidate and the current frontrunner, took a different approach during his first campaign stop in Iowa City.
“Folks, the fact of the matter is there’s an awful lot to say and I’m not going to say it, because you’re all standing,” Biden told the crowd that filled almost all the available space at Big Grove Brewery and Taproom on Wednesday. “Back home, you keep people waiting standing for more than about 20 minutes, you lose everybody. Even the people who support you.”
Actually, even though the event started over an hour late and the weather was chilly and overcast, the former vice president received a very warm reception.
The 76-year-old Biden was clearly at home in front of the crowd. His 35-minute speech, while short on policy details, was full of familiar Biden touches, including heartfelt family anecdotes and his habit of repeating certain words or phrases (such as “folks” and “the fact of the matter”).
As he did in his announcement video released April 26, Biden began by focusing on the corrosive nature of the Trump presidency.
“Folks, look, the fact of the matter is our core values, our standing in the world, our very democracy — everything that’s made America America — is literally at stake,” Biden said. “And that’s not hyperbole.”
“Limited to four years, this administration will go down in history as an aberrant moment in time,” he continued. “But eight years will see some fundamental changes in who we are as a country. I really mean it.”
“Folks, we can’t let that happen,” Biden warned.
Biden talked about Trump’s reaction to the 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, and the president’s claim that there were “very fine people on both sides.”
“Folks, I said then, we’re in a battle for the soul of the nation,” Biden told the audience.
Biden then shifted his focus from Trump.
“Folks, the fact of the matter is the backbone of America — hardworking, middle-class people — are being crushed,” Biden said. “They’re in real, real trouble across the country.”
The middle class built America, Biden said. He added, “Ordinary, middle-class people have never, ever, ever, ever let the country down.”
“And the fact of the matter is, you know who built the middle class?” Biden asked, before offering a one-word answer. “Unions.”
“The fact of the matter is, all those rights we have, all workers have — to make sure they only have a 40-hour week, just go down the list — it all exists because of the sacrifices labor has made,” Biden said.
“There used to be a basic bargain in America,” according to Biden. “The basic bargain was simple: if you contributed to the success of the enterprise you were engaged with, you got to share in the rewards. That was the deal.”
“Democrats and Republicans since the ’30s agreed with that, but that deal’s been broken.”
Of course, the bipartisan agreement about the deal, to the extent it actually existed, broke down while Biden was in office. His 47 years on the national political stage — he was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972 at the age of 29 — coincided with the collapse of the national political power of unions, new restrictions on labor organizing and a sharp decline in union membership. During the same period, income inequality grew to levels not seen since the Great Depression.
But Biden said that, as president, he’d be able to reverse the half-century-long decline of union power.
“You know, the fact of the matter is, my North Star as your president, if I am elected, is that this time, when we rebuild the middle class, everyone is coming along, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, religion,” Biden said.
According to Biden, restoring the middle class means “giving people back their dignity. By dignity, I mean being able to provide for the security of your family, being able to have a little bit of joy, being able to have a little bit of breathing room.”
He went on to explain what he means when he talks about the “middle class.”
My definition of middle class is being able to send your kid to a park, and know they’ll come home safely. Being able to own your own home, and not have to rent. Being able to send your kids to a good school locally, so if they do well they can go on beyond high school to a trade school or a community college or a college. Being able to take care your geriatric mom after your dad passes away, and hope your children never have to take care of you, because you have enough for retirement.
That’s basic middle class where I come from.
Biden mentioned some of the problems hourly workers currently face, such as non-competition agreements and the elimination of overtime pay when workers are arbitrarily reclassifed as management.
He then introduced the one specific policy proposal he offered Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s long past time [for] a $15 minimum wage in America,” Biden said to applause.
Biden never publicly endorsed a minimum wage that high during the Obama administration. Due to opposition from congressional Republicans, President Obama was never able to raise the national minimum wage, but using an executive order, he succeeded in raising the minimum wage for federal government contract workers in 2014. But Obama only raised that wage to $10.10 per hour.
After endorsing the new minimum wage, Biden returned to general principles.
“Folks, the fact of the matter is I’m going to talk a lot about over this campaign what my policies are, and go into great detail,” Biden said. “You’re all standing, so I won’t say a lot.” (Approximately half of the audience was actually seated.)
“The fundamental issue for me is to fundamentally change the dynamic,” he said. “We should be rewarding work, not wealth.”
“Folks, the first step is to revise Trump’s tax cut,” Biden said. Not only did the tax cut dramatically increase the deficit, it also “increased the number of loopholes for the super-wealthy.” Speaking of the super-wealthy, he added, “They’re not bad folks, by the way.” According to Biden, they just took what was offered to them.
“The fact of the matter is there used to be, when Reagan was president, there was $800 billion worth of loopholes,” he explained. “Today, there’s $1,600,000,000,000. No one can possibly justify, at a minimum, $300 billion of that. And I think it’s more like $600 billion.”
“Folks, the fact of the matter is we have to change it,” Biden said.
“The second most important thing in my view is that we have to finish the job on health care,” the candidate continued. He called the Affordable Care Act passed by the Obama administration, “a huge step forward for this country.”
“We have to finish the job, to make sure health care is a right and not a privilege,” Biden said. As for how to accomplish that, he said, “You should have a choice to buy into an option of a health care plan like Medicare. Period. You’re making that choice yourself.”
“Thirdly, we’ve got to invest much more in education,” Biden said. “We have to make post-secondary education affordable.”
The former vice president said 65 percent of jobs now require education beyond high school.
“We have to make sure the economy works for everybody, not just people with college degrees,” he told the Iowa City audience. “Not just people with college degrees.”
“Folks, four years of college is important if you can get there, and if you’re going and you want to go,” Biden said. “But folks, we have to let people compete for on-the-job training. We have to let them in on the deal. We have to be working for apprenticeships, we have to be working for trade schools.”
“All these things are things that are totally within our grasp, and is totally possible. It should start by us changing our attitude toward education.”
Biden outlined a few more priorities for the audience.
“And folks, look, I have an ambitious plan to rebuild this country. From clean and renewable energy, cleaner, safer transportation, a whole range of things, we’re going to be laying out — but you’re going to be laying out on the floor, if I keep going and laid it all out,” he said, as the crowd laughed. “But look, we should invest significantly more. Because this is about the future, not just about where we are today. It’s about the future.”
“We’re in a race with the rest of the world,” Biden said. “We should be investing considerably more of our resources in high-tech research. Considerably more of our research money should be going from the government into things like — we’re on the cusp of curing and fundamentally changing everything from Alzheimer’s to dealing with cancer to a whole range of things.”
“The fact is, for all the trouble we have, I’m more optimistic about our prospects as a nation today than I was when I got elected as a 29-year-old kid to the Senate,” Biden said. “I’m not kidding.”
But, according to Biden, it will require bipartisan cooperation to realize those prospects.
“Folks, the fact of the matter is, we can do all we need to do without punishing anybody,” he said. “Anybody.”
Biden explained, “The reason I’m optimistic: look at who we are.”
He declared himself a believer in American exceptionalism, but claimed his belief was rooted in facts.
“We have the most productive workers in the world,” Biden said. “It’s a fact, we’re three times as productive as workers in Asia. Don’t tell me we can’t compete. Don’t tell me we’re not able to do that.”
“North America is virtually energy independent now, and the United States of America, by the end of the 2020s, will be the single largest producer of energy in the world,” he continued. “Not the Saudi Arabian peninsula, not Russia, the United States of America. Including renewable energy.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, the United States has more great research universities, like here at the University of Iowa, than all — those are the facts — than all the rest of the world combined. And every major change, every major life-altering change, has come out of the research universities.”
Building to his speech’s emotional finish, Biden said, “Folks, I don’t think there’s anything beyond our capacity. The only thing that can tear America apart is America.” He repeated, “The only thing that can tear America apart is America.”
“But folks, everybody knows who Donald Trump is,” Biden said. “Not a joke, everybody knows who he is. But we have to let him know who we are.”
Biden said people need to let Trump know they choose hope over fear, truth over lies and science over fiction.
Unlike all but one of the other candidates who have campaigned in Iowa City, Biden didn’t take any questions from the audience at the end of his speech. The only other candidate to skip questions was the other leader in early Iowa polls, Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Despite the fact the event started an hour late, very few people left during Biden’s speech. After it was finished, a large crowd surged to the stage to take photos of the former vice president or shake his hand.