MONTCLAIR – His voice rising to an ear-splitting crescendo, Joe Biden told students and everyone else listening Wednesday to “get off their rear ends” and help Democrats take back Congress.
Headlining a rally for congressional candidate Mikie Sherrill at Montclair State University, the former vice president mixed rhetoric that rose in intensity and timbre with somber descriptions of life in today’s America. Gov. Phil Murphy, lesser officials and about 600 supporters packed the school’s university hall to boost Sherrill, a Montclair resident and Democratic candidate in CD-11.
“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Biden said, recollecting what he heard decades ago from a civil rights worker in his native Delaware.
“This is not who we are, this is not the America I know,” he said, referencing the presidency of Donald Trump.
Decrying the “phony populism” and extreme nationalism of the Trump Administration, Biden said “We are an honorable and generous people.”
The former vice president attacked the Trump administration for dividing our European allies and trying to split-up NATO. He said America’s traditional greatness doesn’t come from using our might to beat someone over the head, but by spreading our long-standing ideals of democracy and equality.
Biden said Americans are rightly afraid of an administration that rewards the wealthy with tax breaks while trying to eliminate the Affordable Care Act and with it, the requirement that insurance companies do not discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions.
Referring to GOP candidate Jay Webber, but not by name, Biden said the country doesn’t need “another Trump acolyte in the House.”
Webber for his part has been stressing his independence and bipartisanship.
There is fodder here for both camps. Webber backs the Trump tax cuts, which is something many New Jersey Republicans do not. But in fairness, Webber, who is now an assemblyman, did oppose increasing the state’s gas tax by 23 cents a gallon, a move backed by GOP Governor Chris Christie.
Webber sent out a statement before the rally saying Sherrill has morphed into a “professional politician” who is beholden to Democratic Party “bosses like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.”
Campaign rhetoric is, well, campaign rhetoric. And this one is a stretch.
Sherrill has said more than once that she would not support Pelosi as party leader and it’s hard to see Biden as a “political boss.” No one ever accused him of emulating Frank Hague.
But Republicans were not through. After the rally, Theresa Winegar, the state GOP executive director, said in a release that people should be nervous to have Sherrill, Murphy and Biden in the same room. The statement noted that Biden called for a $17 billion tax increase while on stage.
Well, it wasn’t that simple. In talking about the cost of college and student debt – the scene was after all a college campus – Biden said expanding how capital gains are taxed can net $17 billion in revenue.
He said that would finance at least community college education all across the country with $11 billion leftover.
This was obviously a partisan address.
As Biden noted, “This is not your father’s Republican Party.”
But he also took pride in his ability to work with Republicans, a trait most recently seen when Biden spoke just last week at a memorial service for the late John McCain.
As an older generation politician, Biden seemed to long for the time when there was a more collegial relationship among Democrats and Republicans. He postulated that the fierce tribalism of the day has some Republicans afraid to criticize President Trump even though he said many want to do just that.
But he expressed hope that if Democrats capture control of either the House or Senate, Republicans would be more likely to speak out against Trump, or as he put it, say “enough is enough.”
We shall see if that prediction rings true.
Biden campaigned Wednesday for Sherrill; last month the current vice president, Mike Pence, headed a fundraiser for Webber.
The Sherrill event was a boisterous public rally complete with piped in music and a sign-waving crowd.
The Webber event was a closed fundraiser, although Pence did appear publicly afterwards at a diner in Florham Park.
The differences were stark, but one thing is clear – a race in New Jersey’s 11th congressional district is seeing the kind of national attention it never has seen before.