CHARLOTTE — Vice President Joe Biden depicted the key difference between President Obama and Mitt Romney as one of empathy in his speech to the Democratic National Convention Thursday night.
“I got to see firsthand what drove this man,” Biden said. “His profound concern for the average American.”
Biden’s speech made explicit what Michelle Obama’s masterful Tuesday address had only implied: One of the candidates understands ordinary people, one doesn’t, and the reason is their backgrounds.
“We had a pretty good idea of what all those families and Americans in trouble were going through in part because our families have gone through similar struggles,” he said.
Biden framed this argument by focusing on his two favorite examples of administration successes: the auto rescue and the killing of Osama Bin Laden. In each case, he described Obama’s actions as guided by a profound respect for the common man and Romney’s responses from the sidelines as cold, robotic and uncaring.
Biden described how Obama decided to commit tens of billions of dollars to rescue the auto industry even as an array of aides, lawmakers and experts advised him that “the risks were too high, the outcome too uncertain.”
“He understood something they did not get,” he said. “And one of the reasons I love him, he understood that this wasn’t just about cars, it was about the people that built and made those cars.”
Romney famously opposed a 2008 Bush-approved stopgap loan, which Biden depicted as a revealingly heartless moment for a politician whose own father ran an auto company.
“What I don’t understand — and I don’t think he understood — is what saving the automobile workers, saving the industry, what it meant to all of America,” he said. “I think he saw it in terms of balance sheets and write-offs. Folks, the Bain way may bring your firm the highest profits but it is not the way to lead our country from the highest office.”
He applied the same standard for the decision to conduct a raid in Pakistan that ultimately killed bin Laden, recalling how Romney said in 2007 that it wasn’t worth moving “heaven and earth” to get the terrorist leader (he quickly walked the line back at the time).
“He was wrong,” Biden said. “If you understood that America’s heart had to be healed, you would have done exactly what the president did and you would move heaven and earth to hunt him down and to bring him to justice.”
Returning to the theme of character, Biden said the two stories showed how Obama has “courage in his soul, compassion in his heart, and the spine of steel.”
“Because of all the actions they took, because of the determination of American workers and the unparalleled bravery of Special Forces, we can proudly say what you have heard me say the last six months: Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive!” Biden said.
Turning to the broader economy, Biden sought to reassure Americans that, tough as times may be, the White House needed more time for its policies to fully take place. But he made clear that the worst was behind the country thanks to Obama’s actions.
“America is coming back,” he said. “We are not going back. We have no intention of downsizing the American dream.”
To end, he admitted that the recovery is “not yet complete.” But, he said, “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 the our way. I say to you with absolute confidence, America’s best days are ahead and, yes, we are on our way!”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.