Illustration by Ethan Wenberg
John Kerry stood up on Wednesday night and showed some of the fire he should have displayed four years ago. He did what many Democrats had been calling for all week, delivering a blistering attack on John McCain's misguided policies and the failures of George W. Bush. Commentators including NBC anchor Brian Williams immediately labeled it the Democratic Convention's hardest hitting speech.
Condemning the Republicans for opening the tired playbook of Karl Rove and daring to question Barack Obama's patriotism, Kerry highlighted McCain's only plan to win this election. With Steve Schmidt at the helm, the same Rove disciple who ran the 2004 Bush war room, the McCain campaign has a simple strategy - to trash Obama by any means necessary.
But by picking Joe Biden as his running mate, Obama has made it much harder for McCain to Swiftboat, Paris Hilton, and Willie Horton his way into the White House. Biden's acceptance speech proved what the citizens of Delaware have known for a long time. Biden is a regular Joe with all-American family values who also happens to be a Senator.
Biden has been on the national stage since he led the fight against Robert Bork's extreme right wing Supreme Court nomination in 1987, and campaigned twice for president. Yet as he stepped into the spotlight Wednesday night, it was his first introduction for many voters. And Biden knocked it out of the park. Like Obama, the man has the gift of the tongue, which makes the fact that he overcame a childhood stutter all the more remarkable.
He stressed the values he learned from his parents growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. His father "fell on hard economic times," but told him, "Champ, when you get knocked down, get up. Get up." In one of the speech's many emotional moments, he introduced his elderly mother, Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden, who was sitting in the audience. And Biden reminded us that "My mother's creed is the American creed: No one is better than you. You are everyone's equal, and everyone is equal to you."
Unlike McCain, Biden doesn't own a house or condo in Washington, let alone seven of them spread around the country. He takes an Amtrak train most nights on his regular commute back to Wilmington, Delaware. Biden has a middle class bankroll, ranked 99th in net worth out of 100 Senators in 2005. His wife Jill, who briefly took the mike to introduce Barack Obama's surprise appearance following Biden's speech, is a full-time teacher at Delaware Technical and Community College.
And Biden painted a powerful picture of the imagined conversations around kitchen tables in all the houses he passes while riding home on the train:
"Winter's coming. How we gonna pay the heating bills? Another year and no raise? Did you hear the company may be cutting our health care? Now, we owe more on the house than it's worth. How are we going to send the kids to college? How are we gonna be able to retire?"
These are anxieties most Americans share at a moment when our economy is in shambles. Having Joe Biden voice them on the campaign trail from now until November will do more than help the Obama-Biden ticket appeal to working class voters in critical states like Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. It will keep the focus on how Republicans have screwed things up. George W. Bush spent two terms driving the country into a ditch, and McCain offers more of the same.
It's hard to distract from a historic foreclosure crisis that severely threatens the value of working and middle-class families' homes. Or a broken health care system, falling wages, and inflation that has pushed up the cost of nearly everything. Or sky-high gas prices. And the war in Iraq, pushed off the front pages as U.S. casualty levels drop, is a steady drip in the back of voters' minds, a constant reminder that we are wasting billions of dollars a month while needs at home remain crying out to be met.
Even reporters for Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network are calling the Obama-Biden ticket "authentic and real," saying "Joe Biden is a genuine working class guy." John McCain and his team are in trouble unless they wake up and smell the economic realities confronting the country, then start re-thinking the Rove formula for victory. With the economy in the tank and Obama-Biden not afraid to say it, the GOP slime machine may soon be out of gas.