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Biden pokes crowd as 'dull as hell,' blasts GOP on women

April 27, 2012|By Michael A. Memoli
  • Vice President Joe Biden, shown earlier this year in Toledo, Ohio.
Vice President Joe Biden, shown earlier this year in Toledo, Ohio. (Madalyn Ruggiero/Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Joe Biden spoke to more than 200 members of the Turkish and Azerbaijani communities at a fundraiser in Washington on Friday morning, a quiet group he described as “dull as hell” to draw a laugh.

But Biden said the U.S. takes its relationships with Turkey and Azerbaijan quite seriously. Turkey, he said, has "been one of our most valuable and proudest allies.

"I have been the one who has publicly, along with the president, been very, very critical of some of our European allies for not fully embracing Turkey in the economic union, for not fully embracing Turkey as part of Europe. The way we look at Turkey is, it's the gateway, it's the hinge between the east and west. It has inordinate influence," he said.

Biden said he'd had a "wide-ranging discussion" with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan about the potential for Turkey to be a positive influence in the Arab spring and in stopping violence in Syria.

"We're on the same page with regard to Syria. We're looking for Turkish leadership in the rest of that entire region. No one knows whether that spring will turn to winter tomorrow. Nobody knows exactly how that's going to go. But with the strong leadership of Turkey we are reassured, there's nothing we do that we don't coordinate," he said.

On Azerbaijan, he said that progress has been made that "is in the interest of the region and the interest of the United States of America." Then he offered a classic Biden moment: "I guess what I'm trying to say without boring you too long at breakfast -- and you all look dull as hell, I might add. The dullest audience I have ever spoken to. Just sitting there, staring at me. Pretend you like me!"

It drew big laughs from the crowd.

"But the point of it is this. We view Azerbaijan as a country with tremendous potential. We want Azerbaijan to succeed in its goal of developing a modern democracy and becoming a regional leader."

More broadly, he said, how the U.S. manages "this incredible transition" would determine "whether or not in the year 2050 our children look back and say we were the stewards at a time where we were as wise and as successful as our grandparents were after World War II."

Biden said "the measure is going to be whether this Arab spring continues to be a spring and grows in democracy. That's why we think, I think, Turkey is such an incredible model. Turkey has the capacity to be a transition point for all the region. It's a model as to how you can have an Islamic population, an Islamic state and a democracy, something the rest of the region is groping to figure out how to do."

The role of the U.S. will be "direct, constant engagement and understanding. And listening, not just dictating. Listening, not just giving out proclamations as to what we think, what we are going to do."

According to the Obama campaign, tickets for the event started at $2,500, with all proceeds going to the Obama Victory Fund, a joint fund-raising committee of Obama for America, the Democratic National Committee and several state Democratic parties.

On the domestic front, Biden did not hold back from criticizing the Republican Party, which he portrayed as too conservative for modern America, particularly on issues such as women's reproductive rights and birth control.

Biden said as he watched Republican candidates debate in advance of primaries, it was like we "literally are returning to the social policies of the '50s. There's almost a nostalgic feel to it. The role of women has become an issue in a way that I never thought it would be in American politics."

The differences between the two party's platforms in this election will offer "the clearest choice that the American people have had in a long time," Biden said. "It's not your father's Republican Party."

He addressed specifically the issue of contraception, saying that he "noticed today" that Judge Robert Bork, "a fine man, and a man who I disagree with a lot," was part of the Romney campaign as a "justice coordinator."

He discussed Bork's confirmation hearings, which Biden oversaw as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987 after President Reagan nominated Bork to the Supreme Court. The Senate rejected Bork, who was strongly opposed by women's and rights groups for some of his views, including that some civil rights decisions should be rolled back.

"So we're kind of returning to the past. You know that movie, 'Back To the Future?' It feels like to me that we're going Back to the Future," he said.

Turning to foreign policy, Biden accused Romney of being "mired in a Cold War think."

"And by the way, in fairness he hasn't said a lot about foreign policy, so it's difficult to say with certainty how much he differs from us. But on what he has said on foreign policy there are stark differences. If you're looking for a way to look at this, at the differences, think of the fundamental differences that Gov. Romney had about what to do about the automobile industry --he said let Detroit go bankrupt, and the tens of thousands of jobs that would entail -- and he also indicated that it wasn't worth spending, paraphrasing him, a billion dollars to try to go after Osama bin Laden. One man would not make that much difference.

"Well the president fundamentally disagreed with that view. And the end result is that Bin Laden is gone, and General Motors and Chrysler are doing quite well."

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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