Stephen Reader covers politics for It's a Free Country, WNYC's interactive politics site. He joined the station in 2010 and has also worked for Studio 360, WNYC's Peabody Award-winning show about art, culture, and creativity.
Joe Biden took the stage at the NAACP's annual convention Thursday to raucous applause and the tune of "Shining Star" by Earth, Wind & Fire. In a speech that was to lay out the stark differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who addressed the convention yesterday, Biden's appearance was itself a study in contrasts from the moment he was introduced.
Pinch-hitting for President Obama, who did not appear at the convention this year, Biden was called a "friend of the NAACP" by chairman Roslyn Brock. He got a soundtrack. He seemed to elicit genuine enthusiasm the crowd.
Mitt Romney got none of these things on Wednesday.
"You know what they say, flattery’s alright as long as you don’t inhale," Biden told the crowd as they quieted down after his introduction. "You all are gonna make me inhale."
So he had weed jokes, too—another thing Mitt Romney was missing.
This was obviously Biden's crowd, and Barack Obama is obviously the NAACP's man. There's never been a question about that; no one thought Mitt Romney was going to win the convention over with a single speech, and no one thought Biden would have a tough time countering the next day. (Though some have pointed out that Romney's strategy may have been to pick up independent and undecided black voters in key swing states while appearing consistent and principled, rather than win over the NAACP.)
Either way, Biden had the easy job. On Wednesday, Romney essentially told the NAACP, "I know you may not like the taste of the medicine, but I promise it will cure the disease." On Thursday, Biden may as well have said, "Look at the crap they want you to swallow."
"This is a president who has the character of his convictions," Biden said of Barack Obama (it was one of five instances where the words "character" and "convictions" appeared in the same sentence, appearing as an obvious dig at Mitt Romney's authenticity issues). "And almost never since taking office, during the entire time, did the Republican Congress reach across the aisle to help."
Biden cited important votes in Congress over the last four years: only three Republican senators voted for the Recovery Act, and zero in the House; no Republican support in the House or Senate for the Affordable Care Act; similar stats for the Democrat-supported payroll tax cut extension and the Lily Ledbetter Act.
"Obstructionist was the plan from the outset," Biden told the crowd, which booed each vote that the Vice President mentioned. "Not to get out of the recession, not to promote jobs, not to do the things that needed be done, but to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
"Folks, their discipline is amazing. They’ve never let up. But neither has my guy."
As for the other guy, Biden tried to associate Mitt Romney with the past. He called the presumptive Republican nominee's social policies a "throwback to the '50s." Hammering Romney for opposing the New START nuclear arms treaty with Russia—which Biden said had been endorsed by every living former Secretary of State, liberal or conservative—Biden said, "His foreign policy is mired in the Cold War, and the Cold War is over."
Biden argued Romney would eliminate the College Tuition Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit. "As a result, 2.2 million African-American families will see a tax increase if he succeeds," Biden told the crowd. (Here's where he gets that number.)
"Did you think we'd be fighting these battles again?" Biden asked. "I didn’t think we’d be back. I remember working with Republicans—and by the way, this ain't your father's Republican party—remember working with Republicans on Motor Voter, expanding the franchise on early voting, voting by mail. Some of these were Republican ideas. But this is not the Republican party today, nor Romney’s: they see a different future where voting is made harder, not easier."
On almost every policy point you can think of, Biden went to task undoing the central pitch of Romney's remarks on Wednesday, which was, "If you want a president who will make things better in the African American community, you are looking at him."
The NAACP did not appear to buy Romney's argument, but they loved Joe Biden's. We noticed that Mitt Romney got booed five times yesterday. The only time Joe Biden got booed was when he said he was going to have to wrap up his speech.
"There's a lot more to say, but this is preaching to the choir," he said.
It certainly was. And while Mitt Romney may have had an organ play during his speech, it was Biden's that came off more like a sermon. When he finished speaking, music came over the loudspeakers again; this time, it was "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" by Stevie Wonder. Fitting for an organization that didn't need Joe Biden to tell them for whom they should vote in November.