Vice President Joe Biden came to Des Moines yesterday, beginning his trip by talking with students at Drake University. And he talked. And talked. And then talked some more. He gave students a nearly two hour professorial class on economics, foreign relations and a little bit of everything else. But this is Iowa, so a speech is never just a speech.
Once again, if you only read the headlines from the national news media, you’d think his Drake speech and the trip itself was a preview of a Biden presidential campaign. News outlets led with Biden’s assertion that Democrats should run on the Obama administration’s record and his quote of “Some say that would amount to a third term of the president. I call it sticking with what works.” Many suggested it was a 2016 speech, laying down the justifications of a Biden bid. No it wasn’t.
Those specific quotes from Biden were little more than a casual aside thrown into an incredibly long and rambling speech. Biden bounced around from topic to topic, with no real structure or focus to his remarks in front of a crowd of over 800, mostly students. He would start to mention education topics like student debt, but then veered the conversation back to meetings with world leaders he’s had. 20 minutes later, he’d mention education for a few sentences again, then once more another ten or so minutes later.
There didn’t seem to be an overarching theme to Biden’s remarks, save perhaps for defending the administration’s record in a general sense, especially on economic issues. That seemed to be more the point when he mentioned that Democrats should defend Obama’s record. He often brought up the congressional campaigns, so it may have been more in reference to Democrats losing many 2014 elections by distancing themselves from the White House.
At least for Biden’s sake, I hope he wasn’t trying to make the case for a presidential run. Because I would not have caucused for the Biden that showed up at Drake yesterday. I really like the Vice President, and think that all of the national criticism of him is bunk. He’s authentic, and yes, sometimes a little silly, but I think that’s something we need in our politicians.He’s an extremely good, honest man, and an expert on every kind of foreign and domestic policy there is.
But the Biden I thought I knew wasn’t on display yesterday. I used to sit in those chairs in Drake’s Sheslow Auditorium, listening to presidential candidates make their pitch to college students. I may look a lot older than those students these days, but I could still imagine whether Biden was connecting with them on their issues, and he wasn’t. He turned one question on immigration into a blow-by-blow recounting of a conversation he had with the Chinese president once. He eventually got to the point, but he really indulged himself along the way rather than reading and playing to his audience.
All that may mean, however, is that Joe Biden hasn’t really thought seriously yet about a presidential campaign. If he had, you would think his remarks would have been a little sharper and more specifically set on appealing to Iowans who may go caucus. And indeed, later on in the day he told reporters that he was waiting until the summer to decide.
If Biden runs, it’s going to be a while, despite the narrative the national media hoped to push yesterday. Being the Vice President and already having a network of support in Iowa likely allows Biden to wait for longer than most (maybe all) of the other candidates. But if he does, he needs to find in himself that charm and political savvy that makes him so good at winning over Democratic activists and voters. Hopefully he’ll be better in the smaller settings the Iowa Caucus usually provides, because his speech from stage to a large audience yesterday won’t help him carry the vote in many precincts.
by Pat Rynard