Noting that he did not want to pre-empt President Barack Obama’s remarks scheduled for later in the day, Biden did emphasize a few points. He said that it is important for the future of Egypt to be determined by the Egyptian people, that violence and intimidation against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable, that it is important that the universal rights and aspirations of the Egyptian people be met and that the transition must be a negotiated path toward democracy.
For any other comment on the situation, “it is appropriate that we all wait” for Obama’s talk, he said.
Biden came to UofL as a guest of the McConnell Center, and was invited by longtime U.S. Senate colleague Mitch McConnell (R-Ky).
The vice president opened his remarks by joking that the audience had come “because you want to see if a Republican and a Democrat really like one another. They do. They really do,” he said.
Reaching across party differences was a recurring theme in Biden’s talk. He talked about working with such ideologically opposite senators as Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms. He was candid about the disagreements that he and McConnell have on how to move forward but noted too that Republicans and Democrats basically agree on the issues that need to be addressed.
At the center of Biden’s talk was an examination of myths that he said will keep the country from moving forward. They include that
the U.S. political system is broken and incapable of making progress.
America has fallen behind its competitors and will not be able to compete.
America will be mired in war for generations.
“The biggest of all in my view,” he said, is that “those other myths are inevitable, and that we don’t have the power to change them.”
“I am confident that those myths won’t become reality,” he said. “We are not passengers of history, but we are drivers of history.”
Biden first was elected to the Senate from his home state of Delaware in 1972. He served until he became vice president in 2009. Throughout his talk, he drew from his more than three decades of experience in the Senate to give examples to dispel the myths.
He said that the political system was not dysfunctional and gave the example of him and McConnell agreeing during the lame-duck months of 2010 on a process to keep moving on issues that needed to be resolved.
To people who say compromise won’t happen again, Biden said, “I don’t accept that.”
Senators and representatives “all ran for office because they love their country, and we basically agree on the nature of the problems we face.… We have a lot of work to do for this great nation. Our politics are very difficult, but they are not dysfunctional.”
Biden also said it is untrue that such countries as India and China are dominating the United States economically.
“It is important to retain perspective,” he said. “We are the strongest economy by three. These countries have gone through changes, lifting people out of poverty — which is good. Good for them; good for us.”
“People said the same thing about Japan in the 1980s,” he said.
“We want to see China progress. We want to see it grow,” Biden said, adding that when a country’s standard of living rises, democratic values follow.
“This is not to say that we don’t have to get our house in order,” he continued. “We have a Herculean task. Our long-term debt is not sustainable. … We have to cut not just waste, but we have to cut some muscle.”
The vice president then suggested that one way to secure U.S. economic dominance is to invest in education, innovation and infrastructure.
Noting that some people believe that the government cannot afford to invest in those areas now, he said the issue “needs to be debated.”
As to the United States being forever mired in war, he pointed out that the last 50,000 U.S. troops will come home from Iraq this year and that by the year 2014, the Afghan government will be responsible for its own security.
It is crucial for the United States to have sustained economic strength and to ensure that U.S. policies match the country’s values, Biden said.
“I am sure that our Republican leaders will disagree with some of the prescriptions” the Obama administration proposes for working through current issues, he said, but “I know we share the conviction that when we find common ground, as we did in December and hopefully will again, there is no challenge that we can’t surmount. … We share the conviction that America’s best days are ahead.”