Vice President Joe Biden, who served under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2017, delivered the Global Leaders lecture March 24 at Colgate University. (Photo by Mark DiOrio/Colgate University)
By Ashley M. Casey
Vice President Joe Biden delivered the keynote address as part of Colgate University’s Kerschner Family Series Global Leaders to a packed crowd at the Sanford Field House on March 24.
“I didn’t know there were 5,000 people in the whole county,” Biden chuckled when he greeted the audience.
Biden joins the roster of the lecture series’ past guests such as Aretha Franklin, the Dalai Lama, both Hillary and Bill Clinton, and “Freakonomics” authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.
Biden’s speech focused on the digital revolution’s role in rebuilding the middle class. Before his address, he held a Q&A session with Colgate students; after the speech, Colgate University President Brian Casey joined the former vice president onstage for a few more questions.
Here are the highlights of Biden’s talk:
Biden said his nickname in the Senate was “Middle-Class Joe” because of his blue-collar roots and rough-around-the-edges rhetoric.
“In Washington, that’s not a compliment. It means I’m not sophisticated,” he said. “But I’m sophisticated enough to know what built this country.”
While the rise of technology and automation have eliminated some jobs and transformed industries, Biden said the pros of the digital revolution outweigh the cons. Biden said the world is on the cusp of medical breakthroughs in cancer treatment and vaccines as well as the creation of new industries.
Biden said it is up to governments, corporations and civil society to balance the losses of the digital revolution with its gains. He laid out his “five core pillars” of rebuilding America’s middle class:
When asked if he regretted not running for president in 2016, Biden’s answer was complicated.
“Do I regret not being president? Yes,” he said. “Do I regret not running for president? No.”
The vice president explained that his son, Beau, who served as attorney general of Delaware, was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2013 and died in 2015.
“I lost part of my soul,” Biden said of the loss of his son.
While Beau urged his father to run for the nation’s highest office, Joe Biden said he felt he could not devote himself fully to the presidency while guiding his family through Beau’s illness and death.
“No man or woman should run for President of the United States unless they can look the public in the eye and say they can give 100 percent,” Biden said. “I couldn’t do it.”
Biden said the 2016 presidential campaign was a “race to the bottom.”
He said the Republican Party was “at war with itself,” allowing President Donald Trump’s campaign to divert attention from the discussion of policies and programs. Democrats, he said, failed to heed the concerns of both traditional party members and millennials.
“The press covered nothing but the salacious parts of this campaign,” Biden said, adding of Hillary Clinton’s loss, “I think Democrats thought the only way was to drive his negatives higher than her negatives.”
Both sides, Biden said, did not address the concerns of working class Americans. He quoted his father, Joe Biden Sr. “I don’t expect the government to solve my problems; I expect them to understand them.”
Colgate President Brian Casey asked Biden how people can stand up for their values and democracy during Trump’s presidency.
“We can’t play into the administration’s game of getting us into this mosh pit,” Biden said of the inflammatory political climate. “We have to stand up — and not even holler — and speak truth to power.”
Biden cited public outcry in the failure of Republicans’ attempts to weaken the Office of Congressional Ethics and to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the American Health Care Act.
“What we saw today was the first moment the Republican Party stiffened their backbone,” he said of Republican House of Representatives members’ lack of support for the AHCA.
Biden also condemned the current administration’s “attempts to delegitimize political institutions and the Fourth Estate.”
“We desperately need a press that cannot be intimidated,” he said, adding that the press is the “referee” of governmental institutions.
Biden said Americans must uphold the Constitution and the courts.
“Without the system, without our constitution … nothing holds this country together,” he said. “That’s not hyperbole — that’s a natural fact.”
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.