Reporting from Washington — Vice President Joe Biden on Wednesday called the death of Osama bin Laden a defining moment that has reshaped how Americans view the Obama presidency, signaling how the daring raid will figure into the 2012 campaign.
Addressing Democrats at a state party fundraiser in New Hampshire, the state that will host the first Republican presidential primary, Biden also offered a blistering critique of the Republican agenda, saying Rep. Paul D. Ryan's budget plan favors the wealthy while "eviscerating" the safety net for seniors and the poor.
"I don't doubt for a minute that they think what they're doing is good for the country. But Lord Almighty, I sure doubt their judgment and their value system and priorities," Biden said in Nashua. "We're so, so far apart."
Biden laid out three reasons why he was optimistic about the 2012 campaign: the flawed Republican vision, the return of 2008 "surge" voters who stayed home in the 2010 midterm election, and the growing confidence he said Americans feel in President Obama's leadership.
On the latter point, the vice president said the decision to order the raid that killed Bin Laden was a major turning point, calling it "the boldest undertaking any president has undertaken on a single event in modern history."
"The American people no longer confuse being contemplative with having courage," he said. "The American people watched him execute the decision -- not only putting the lives of those special operators on the line, but his entire future on the line as president of the United States of America. And he didn't hesitate."
It was that decision, Biden said, which pre-empted the emerging campaign from Republicans to portray Obama as weak and indecisive. And it has led Americans to change how they've viewed other decisions he's made, like the auto industry bailout and stimulus program.
"The American people now ... have a crystal clear picture of how strong and decisive this president is. And that's the last piece of the puzzle that had to be put in place for this great man," Biden said. "People are now beginning to take a second look at those incredibly difficult but absolutely necessary decisions the president had to make the day we walked into the West Wing."
New Hampshire was a state where Democrats suffered particularly heavy losses in 2010, including all three federal races and a historic shift of nearly 200 seats in the state Legislature to Republicans.
Now, pointing not only to Ryan but the actions of Republican governors in states like Wisconsin and Florida, Biden argued that Americans "are getting a real taste of the unvarnished agenda of the Republican Party ... and they don't seem to like it one bit." A new poll just released in Florida showed that key swing state's new Republican governor with an anemic 29% job approval rating.
In past campaigns, Biden claimed, Republicans "hide the ball," disguising their true agenda until they got in power. But "they're not hiding the ball this time," Biden said.
"When the Republicans are honest about what they will do if they gain power, that creates an absolutely crystal clear choice for the American people. And when that choice is put before the American people, we are in good shape," he said.
Biden did praise Ryan, the author of the GOP's budget plan, as a "good, smart, decent man," but said his ideas would slash investments needed to grow the middle class. Notably, he cited former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's recent criticism of the plan as "social engineering."
"Even Newt's right once in a while," Biden joked. "It is social engineering, and the American people get it, and they're getting it more profoundly than ever before."
But now Gingrich has joined the other Republican presidential candidates in embracing Ryan's proposal to win conservative votes. Gingrich has, indeed, walked back his initial criticism, but Republican hopefuls have not quite fully embraced it as Biden said. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, in Washington on Wednesday, would not say if he'd support Ryan's Medicare proposal, only that he would take a different approach.
Biden said Democrats will offer an alternative vision. And he said the voters will respond.
"This is not 2010. This is 2012," he said. "Barack Obama will be at the top of the ticket this time. And you're not going to hear much about an enthusiasm gap. You're going to start to hear ... about an enthusiasm surge."