LACONIA — Joe Biden brought his presidential campaign to the Belknap Mill on Friday, offering a message that was equal parts attack on President Donald Trump and demand for a return to civility and compassion.
After his speech, he took questions from The Laconia Daily Sun in a one-on-one interview on his age, his political ideology, gaffes he has made on the campaign trail and even an eye injury.
At age 76, if elected president, Biden would reach 80 in his first term. He was 29 when first elected to the U.S. Senate.
“I think it’s totally appropriate for people to look at my age,” he said. “Just like when I was 29, was I old enough? And now, am I fit enough? I’ll completely disclose everything about my health. I’m in good shape.”
He said he exercises regularly, feels good and people have trouble keeping up with him. During a CNN Climate Town Hall on Wednesday night, his eye appeared to fill with blood.
“It was my contact lens,” he said. “I think I, you know when you’re taking it out, I think bruised my eye.”
Biden said some of his Democratic opponents “are way more left” on the political spectrum than he is.
Biden is in favor of keeping Obamacare in place and restoring cuts that have been made to it.
“The fact of the matter is, is what I do is I reinstate everything he (Trump) cut,” Biden said. “I provide for a public option. Everybody who has their own private insurance and likes it can keep it. If it turns out they don’t like it, they can buy into the public option, which is affordable, and more affordable than their private care would be.”
He said his plan would cost $740 billion over 10 years. Biden said some of his opponents’ plans cost up to $30 trillion.”
Biden has had a few gaffes during this campaign, including one in which he was in Keene, New Hampshire, but confused it with Vermont while commenting on the beauty of the surroundings.
He said he has never intentionally misrepresented a fact.
Attention on such mistakes, “allows you guys to avoid doing your job," he said.
"And your job is to investigate what in God’s name is going on out there. There’s a change in the country, so whether I said Manchester, Vermont, or New Hampshire, or Iowa is irrelevant in terms of what’s going on.”
Earlier, the former vice president was introduced by former New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch; John Burns, a man who stutters (Biden once had a speech impediment), and Beth James, an advocate for those who have suffered sexual or domestic abuse (as a senator, Biden’s office drafted the Violence Against Women Act).
Biden began his speech by thanking Burns.
“It takes a lot of courage for someone who has a stutter or stammer to stand up in front of a large group of people and it takes enormous courage to do it at a time when we have folks in the media, not in the media, the White House, think it’s OK to make fun of people,” Biden said.
As a candidate, Trump appeared to mock a disabled New York Times reporter.
Thus began a line of criticism from the top-polling Democratic candidate.
Biden said the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act is under fire from Republicans under Trump’s watch.
“Folks, the re-authorization is really important,” he said.
“I believe that what’s most at stake in this election is that we’re in a battle for the soul of America,” he said. “You know in your gut this election is different from any election — no matter how young or old you are — you have ever participated in.
“The words of presidents matter. They matter no matter who they are. The world listens.
"The words of a president can send, they can move markets. They can send brave men and women to war. They can appeal to our better angels of our nature, but they can also unleash the deepest, darkest force in this nation, and I believe that is what President Trump has chosen to do by design.
“His misogynistic behavior is justified by, is justification by the president of being able to grab any woman anywhere he wants or demeaning women the way he describes them when he talks about them. He does it in a demeaning terms.”
Biden discussed coming out of law school, going to work at an affluent law firm and then quitting to go to work as a part-time public defender. He said he saw a lot of racism and hatred through the years, but when he saw the nation elect Barack Obama as president he thought things had changed.
“But I had underestimated how deep the prejudice is in some sections of society and how it can be unleashed,” he said. “I doubt any of you ever thought you’d see what happened in Charlotte, Charlottesville, in 2017, people literally coming out of the fields carrying torches, contorted faces, veins popping, chanting the same, exact anti-Semitic vile that was chanted in the streets of Nuremburg and throughout Germany in the ‘30s, carrying Nazi banners, accompanied by the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists, a young woman killed who was opposing the hate.
“And what happened, the president was asked to comment on it, what did he say, he said something no president ever said with the possible exception of Andrew Jackson before the Civil War, he said, ‘There were very fine people on both sides.’”
Biden said Trump’s rhetoric about “an invasion” of people at the Southern Border was used by the person responsible for a shooting in El Paso, Texas, who killed 22 people.
“Well folks, you know, now the president is feeling pressure on the economy, and we’re teetering on recession, he’s becoming more erratic,” Biden said. “He inherited a pretty good economy from Barack Obama just like he inherited everything in his life, and now he is in the process of squandering it, just like he has squandered everything else he has inherited.”
But Biden said his campaign is about more than Donald Trump.
“Everybody knows who Donald Trump is,” Biden said. “We’re going to let them know who we are. That we choose science over fiction. We choose truth over lies. We choose community over division.”
He said his campaign is about honor and decency.
“Let’s remember who in God’s name we are,” Biden said. “Get up, we have got to get up and move.
“I’m running for two reasons, one to change this administration and two, because I am so optimistic about America’s chances to lead the world, for real, think about it.”
Biden’s voice grew louder as he discussed a quote from President John Kennedy’s speech about going to the Moon, in which he said “we are unwilling to postpone” the effort.
“I refuse to postpone any longer the incredible opportunities we have to change this world and change this nation, so let’s get the devil up and take it back, now,” Biden said to sustained applause.
In a question-and-answer period after the speech, Biden said:
• More shelters are needed for victims of domestic abuse, an issue that is in need of more awareness, particularly on the part of men.
• More gun regulation is needed. “This gun epidemic if bizarre, what’s going on in America,” he said. “I come from a gun-owning state. I believe there is a Second Amendment. The Second Amendment doesn’t state you can own any weapon you want.”
• More money and collaboration is needed in cancer and Alzheimer's research.
• A pathway for citizenship should be provided for some undocumented people meeting certain standards. A better job needs to be done working with people who have asylum claims.
• More money is needed for disadvantaged school districts and more preschool opportunities are needed.