Drawing a stark contrast with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday vigorously defended President Obama’s first term in office and showered a friendly audience at the NAACP annual convention with references to issues like voting rights that Romney deftly sidestepped the day before.
But Biden also avoided some uncomfortable subjects for the Democratic administration, including making no mention of the 14.4 percent unemployment rate among African-Americans, something Romney highlighted in his speech to the convention audience the day before. Nonetheless, Biden’s remarks sparked loud applause and whistles of appreciation from the liberal audience, much different than the tepid reception and booing that greeted Romney on Wednesday.
“I think Mitt Romney is a fine family man. I believe he’s driven by what he believes. But the differences are so basic about how we view the future of America,” Biden said, as he keyed up a round of policy comparisons that included education, taxes, and health care. Romney’s vision, he said, is “basically a throwback to the 50s,” — a biting reference to the decade before the civil-rights movement liberated black Americans from institutionalized segregation.
Biden, who is playing the role of attack dog in Obama’s reelection campaign, devoted the most time to criticizing the Republicans’ stance on civil rights, alluding to the passage of a series of voter-identification laws supported by GOP state legislatures around the country that Democrats say are designed to disenfranchise minority voters. The issue is the main topic of civil-rights organization’s 103rd convention, taking place in Houston.
The vice president said that Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder “see a future where those rights are expanded, not diminished. Where racial profiling is a thing of the past. Where access to the ballot is expanded and unencumbered. Did you think we’d be fighting these battles again?” Shouts of “No!” came from the crowd. A Romney Justice Department would be guided by someone like Robert Bork, the Reagan-era Supreme Court nominee who was rejected in part because of opposition from civil-rights and women’s groups, he said.
“This ain’t your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said. “They see a different future where voting is made harder, not easier. Where the Justice Department is even prohibited from challenging any of those efforts to suppress votes.”
Romney did not bring up the voter-ID laws in his speech on Wednesday, training his focus on the still sour economy, joblessness and the unemployment rate among African Americans, which is far higher than the national average of 8.1 percent. Romney won applause from the crowd for many of his points on the economy, but was booed when he vowed to repeal President Obama’s health care law.
Biden offered a full-throated defense of the law’s popular provisions, such as coverage for children on their parents’ policies until age 26 and a ban on preexisting condition denials, and claimed that the Republican health care proposals would be “controlled by insurance companies.”
He also accused House Republicans of a concerted campaign of obstructionism with the goal of making sure Obama’s first term failed. “It was on the easy, obvious things where we got no cooperation,” Biden said, noting efforts to extend the payroll-tax cut, help ensure equal pay for women, and raise the debt ceiling as examples.
Obama did not appear in person at the convention, citing scheduling conflicts. Instead, he recorded a short video message for the audience in which he urged them to “keep standing with me.”
“I stand on your shoulders,” Obama said in the video, which preceded Biden’s speech. “At the NAACP, you have always believed in the American promise. That idea that no matter who you are or what you look like or where you come from, America is the place where you can make it if you try.
“That’s why you fought so hard for good jobs, and a quality education, and a justice system that treats everybody fairly. That’s why you helped make health care reform a reality. That’s why you’re still fighting today, because you know that our mission right now is not just to recover from the recession, it is to reclaim the security that so many Americans have lost,” Obama said.
Obama addressed the organization four years ago during his first presidential campaign. Twiala Dotson, 43, a Houston teacher who was at that event, said she thinks it's a good idea that Biden was sent this time around because he could aggressively defend the president's record.
“President Obama would have had to have been probably a little bit congenial, but Joe Biden, being the pit bull that he is, he was the man that needed to be here to say what he said in the way that it needed to been said,” Dotson said.
Biden was booed only once -- when he said he was about to end his speech.
Rodney Hawkins contributed to this story.