Biden at Penn State: 'We Are on the Cusp ... '
With the political future of the U.S. House and Senate at stake, Vice President Joe Biden visited Penn State University Park on Tuesday to argue that Democrats offer a brighter, more vibrant economic future for the country.
"There's no nation in the world that has the entrepreneurial instinct, the venture-capital capability and the skill of the American people," Biden said during a 43-minute address in the HUB-Robeson Center. "So, folks, don't let anybody tell you -- don't let anybody tell you that you have to settle for anything. We are on the cusp of not only turning this economy around, but turning the nation in a direction where we can lead the world again."
His remarks covered a gamut of hot-button political issues, from health-care reform and education funding to the $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In a surprise twist, Penn State assistant football Coach Jay Paterno delivered a personal speech just moments before Biden took the stage.
The Democratic rally, held in Alumni Hall of the HUB, drew well more than 1,000 people, organizers estimated. Once Alumni Hall reached its 1,000-person capacity, other visitors were directed into an overflow area where a television was set up.
Hundreds were estimated to be in the overflow area. After his remarks, which ended shortly after 3 p.m., Biden made his way into the overflow area to greet the visitors there.
Access was free and open to the public, though security at the venue was tightly controlled by the U.S. Secret Service.
Democratic leaders dubbed the gathering "Moving America Forward," one among a half-dozen similar events held on college campuses nationwide Tuesday. President Barack Obama headlined a rally at the University of Wisconsin, and other Obama administration officials traveled to the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland, North Carolina Central University and California State University, Los Angeles.
All the gatherings were designed to help organize and mobilize those relatively new voters who first cast ballots in the 2008 presidential race, a Democratic National Committee official said. There were 15 million first-time U.S. voters in 2008. Of those, 30 percent were under the age of 30 -- and 72 percent voted for Obama, according to the DNC.
With that in mind, the DNC is spending about $50 million nationwide on get-out-the-vote efforts before the Nov. 2 mid-term elections, the DNC official said. The DNC spent $17 million in the last mid-term political season, in 2006.
"We think if we can turn out even a small fraction of those 'surge' (first-time) voters (from 2008), we can make a difference in the races that will be decided at the margins," the DNC official said Tuesday.
Some of those races could prove to be uphill battles for Democrats. An ABC News-Washington Post poll this month showed that 43 percent of voters preferred Republicans on economic matters; 39 percent preferred Democrats.
Overall, 40 percent of registered voters said they have more confidence in Democrats than in Republicans -- down from 52 percent three months prior. Thirty-eight percent said they have more confidence in Republicans. The survey marked the first time in more than four years that Republicans polled about on par with Democrats on the basic voter-trust question, according to the Post.
At the HUB rally on Tuesday, Democratic speakers argued that the Obama administration is still helping the country recover after the Bush White House era. They said a return to Republican control of the House and Senate would mean a return to what they deemed the failed economic policies of the past.
Those speakers included Penn State College Democrats President Rob Ghormoz, who introduced Biden; Paterno; and U.S. Congressional candidate Michael Pipe, who is running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Glenn "G.T." Thompson, R-Howard. Their remarks underscored the Obama administration's work in extending to 27 the age when sons and daughters must leave their parents' health-care plans.
They also emphasized the Obama administration's pushes to grow Pell Grants for higher education and to reform the student-loan system, freeing $60 billion in annual fees that had been paid to banks.
Paterno, an Obama supporter, used a football analogy in his comments.
"It is all about the team," Paterno said. "At Penn State, we want to recruit young men who are what we call 'We and us' people. 'We and us.' Inclusive. Unifying. Team first. Football is a team game."
But "in Washington these days," he went on, "we see a stark contrast to the 'We and us' idea."
He said Obama's detractors have refused to collaborate with the White House "because their guy wasn't calling the plays."
Despite that, Paterno said, Obama has "called the plays that scored in a big way, particularly for young people in this country."
Paterno -- whose father, university head football Coach Joe Paterno, has long been a Republican supporter -- also made reference to his parents. His mother, Sue Paterno, has long been a volunteer and philanthropic leader in the State College area.
"I was born to visionary parents," Jay Paterno said. "I grew up in a home that taught unity, tolerance, acceptance and a belief in the dignity of all humanity. Every day, my parents tried to teach us something."
His father taught him that "your happiness is defined by your least-happy child," Jay Paterno said. "Now that I'm a parent, I know those are probably the truest words ever spoken to me."
He said he is all too aware of those who stay awake at night, worrying about how they'll make ends meet. Taking his father's lesson "a step further," he believes that the U.S. is only as happy as the least happy child in its midst, he said.
"Every child who goes to bed hungry for want of food, education or health care is a reflection on us all," Paterno said.
Biden, stepping to the podium moments later, said that he has "never heard a better introductory speech than (what) Jay Paterno just did."
He quickly launched into political points, arguing that "the reports of the death of the Democratic Party are premature." In the days before the Nov. 2 elections, Biden said, "we've got to explain to the American people what we've inherited" from the Bush White House era.
He said Democrats must also explain what they've done so far -- and what they'll continue to do -- "to get us back on track."
"An awful lot of Americans, including some of you and your parents, are angry," Biden said. "And they have good reason to be angry. I'm angry."
He said he's angry when he sees Americans thrown out of their jobs, struggling to pay bills.
Biden predicted that many voters, in their frustration, won't decide how to cast their ballots until the final two weeks before Nov. 2. "We have an opportunity to make our case," he said.
In the six months before Obama and Biden were elected, Biden said, the country shed three million jobs. In its first weeks, the new administration in 2009 was handed a bill for $1.3 trillion in debt that was run up shortly before President George W. Bush left office, he said.
And he said the U.S. economy in the last quarter of the Bush administration shrank seven percent.
Since then, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, pushed by the Obama administration, has generated an estimated two million to 3.5 million jobs, Biden said. Without it, the unemployment rate would be about two percentage points higher than it is now, he estimated. It's now nearly 10 percent nationwide.
Biden touted that the economy is creating jobs again. The private sector added about 67,000 new jobs nationwide in August, according to a Gallup report.
On other economic fronts, Biden said the federal government should continue to build incentives for innovation and set the groundwork for business growth. He highlighted a $159 million energy-efficiency research initiative being led by Penn State in Philadelphia. There, the federal government has committed at least $129 million.
Among other financial issues, Biden advocated a repeal of the Bush-era tax reductions for the highest-earning U.S. households. Continuing the tax cuts for top earners would allow a family making $8.4 million a year to keep a $310,000-a-year tax break, he said.
"This has nothing to do with class warfare," Biden said. He said the Obama administration approach is a "radically sound thing to do in order to get this economy back on track."
If Republicans take control of the U.S. House and Senate, "our entire agenda will come to a screeching halt," Biden said. It also would cause shrinkage of the middle class, give the U.S. a smaller stature on the world's stage, and deliver a disproportionate share of the economy to the very wealthy, he argued.
Not everyone was impressed with the event. Outside the HUB, shortly before the rally began, the Penn State chapter of Young Americans for Freedom held its own "Rally for Jobs."
Group Chairman Samuel Settle cited current unemployment rates in excess of 50 percent among youth. In truth, the Obama administration has "not really done anything for young people," he said.
In addition, young voters will be taken far more seriously if they make themselves politically independent -- not bound to the Democratic Party, Settle said.
He said bloc voting "is a good way to be treated as a tool."
Settle also noted that the HUB venue held only a fraction of the turnout that Obama saw when he campaigned at Penn State in 2008. In that year, more than 20,000 people turned out on the Old Main lawn to hear Obama speak.
"You just can't do that anymore," Settle said, underscoring the much-smaller crowd size on Tuesday. He said that illustrates that the Obama administration has hemorraged "charisma and character" in recent months.