HELENA - Former Vice President Joe Biden urged Democrats in Helena and across the state Saturday night to fight for the middle class, which he said made America the power and beacon of the modern world.
“But for an aspirational middle class that is constantly rising, we would not have had the social and political stability that has characterized this country for over 120 years,” he told 1,300 people gathered for the Montana Democratic Party’s Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner in Helena, and other gatherings watching a live feed.
Biden said the nation’s political and economic stability is at risk, as the middle class struggles to keep afloat while Republicans promote and cheer policies that tilt the balance of power toward the wealthy.
“There used to be a basic bargain in America, shared by Democrats and Republicans, that if you contributed to the success of an enterprise you worked with, you got to share in the benefits,” he said. “That’s broken, man.”
Biden was the keynote speaker at Montana Democrats’ annual fundraising dinner, delivering a 55-minute speech that touched on the values of America, the “mean-spirited” politics of Washington, D.C. and much of the nation, and what Democrats need to do to win in the 2018 elections.
He touted Montana U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, who’s up for re-election this year, calling him a loyal soldier for the programs and policies that help the most vulnerable, the working man and woman and military veterans.
Yet Biden, said to be considering a run for the presidency in 2020, mentioned President Donald Trump by name only once during his lengthy speech.
Not so for Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, who’s also seen as a possible candidate for president in 2020.
Montana’s two-term Democratic governor ripped into the president and his administration for “a level of chaos, dysfunction and corruption that makes it dang-near impossible to keep up with every breaking news alert.”
He ticked off a list of controversies engulfing the White House in the past several weeks, ending with the president belittling his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, by calling him “Mr. Magoo,” a cartoon character known for his bad eyesight.
“Mr. Magoo? C’mon,” Bullock said. “We try to teach our kids to be honest and respectful of others. Yet we’re becoming so desensitized that we expect less of our president than we do of our preschoolers.”
Preceding Bullock was Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney, who said Montana is “far from a red (Republican) state,” because it has elected Bullock and Tester twice – and will elect Tester for a third time this year.
The evening also featured short speeches by the five Democratic candidates vying for the party nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont.
“The current hot-headed seat-warmer is not working for us,” said one of the candidates, Kathleen Williams, referring to Gianforte.
Biden flew into Montana Saturday from Chicago and attended a campaign fundraiser for Tester at a Helena art museum, and sat at a table with Tester and former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus for the evening dinner at the Lewis and Clark County fairgrounds.
Organizers said tickets for the fundraising dinner sold out in less than an hour, after Biden’s attendance was announced earlier this year.
Biden, vice president under Barack Obama, said while U.S. workers’ productivity has increased 66 percent in the past four decades, their pay has gone up a mere 14 percent.
“For the first time in American history, the middle class thinks their children will not be as well off as they are,” he said. “That’s not about possibilities. That’s about great concern.”
He excoriated Republicans for pushing through their bill cutting corporate and personal income taxes last December, saying it will add trillions of dollars to the national debt and put programs that uphold the middle class at risk.
“And who’s going to pay for it?” he asked. “The middle class. … You make up that trillion dollars by emasculating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Not a joke. … They have to. They have to find that money. What’s that going to do to hard-working, decent people in this state?”
He also said America’s reputation abroad is being diminished by the current administration, and its “naked, phony nationalism, and this Populism that’s designed to clear space for selfish people to operate.”