There aren’t many Democratic politicians who can connect with white, working-class voters. But Bill Clinton, born and raised in Arkansas, and Average Amtrak Joe have the bona fide red, white and blue credentials and oratorical ease that makes them gifted salesmen of the Democrats’ vision. Wednesday night, it was Bill Clinton’s job to present a logical argument for why blue collar Americans should re-elect Obama. Last night, it was Joe Biden’s job to steal the hearts of these same voters, and although his efforts suffered from following in the footsteps of Bubba, Biden’s remarks were moving. Together, these two speeches serve as a potent argument for four more years.
The crux of Biden’s argument can be summed up in the slogan plastered across banners and posters in the convention hall: “Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive.” These two accomplishments are concrete in a way that statistic-heavy economic arguments supporting Obama’s first term cannot be (unless wielded by Bill Clinton); it is far more difficult for the Romney campaign to wage war against saving General Motors and killing Osama bin Laden than against Obamacare, taxes, and social programs. You can count on Obama and Biden to keep bringing these achievements up on the trail.
Trumping the auto industry—a crucial bit for any appeal to the working class given the many swing voters sprinkled through the Rust Belt—also proved an excellent opportunity for Biden to jab at Mitt Romney: “I just don’t think he understood what saving the automobile industry meant to all of America. I think he saw it the Bain way. Balance sheets. Write-offs. Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profit. But it’s not the way to lead your country from its highest office.” Romney’s entire argument for deserving the presidency rests upon his private-sector resume, and Biden directly connected that experience to potential job loss for the working class.
Biden’s segued neatly into national security after warming up the crowd with the most impressive job creation story in the administration’s arsenal. As Biden was picked four years ago to bring foreign policy heft to the Democratic ticket, it was his job tonight to remind America of one of the Obama administration’s biggest achievements—ending Osama bin Laden’s reign of terror. What everyone loves best about a speech from Joe is its unvarnished emotion, and he delivered a teary-eyed thanks to our armed forces, which hits especially close to home given his son Beau’s service in Iraq.
In the end, the real victory of Biden’s speech was weaving together the “Osama Bin Laden is dead, and General Motors is alive” message—the apolitical "Best of" moments of the past four years—with the idea that it is "Halftime in America," and that the Democratic ticket still has much hope and change to offer. Biden ended his speech with these words:
Yes, the work of recovery is not yet complete, but we are on our way.
The journey of hope is not yet finished, but we are on our way. The cause of change is not fully accomplished, but we are on our way. So I say to you tonight, with absolute confidence, America’s best days are ahead of us, and, yes, we are on our way.
It’s hard not to hear echoes of Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl commercial here. For Dems, “Halftime for America” remains a metaphor that works especially well given that Obama is nearing the end of his first term. Biden’s translation of the theme to “Halfway to Hope” perfectly balanced reminders of objective victories with a pivot towards running on future promises. It's a reframe of the election that lets Obama pretend to return to his 2008 glory days of running as an upstart challenger without that pesky incumbent record getting in the way. It remains to be seen how long the Obama campaign can continue saying that we’re halfway to hope before the Romney campaign’s refrain of “Are we there yet?” sends them back to defending their economic record. Regardless of how long this 2008-esque pivot lasts, expect to hear the arguments and unvarnished emotions featured in Bill Clinton and Joe Biden’s speeches to get recycled again and again before November 6 gets here—especially in the pockets of white, working-class voters in swing districts.