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Conservative And Liberal Media Agree: Joe Biden ‘Barbarians At The Gate’-Gate Deserves Attention

While the world was freaking out about the Jimmy Hoffa Voter Encouragement Crisis/Incendiary Rhetorapocalypse, Vice President Joe Biden was firing up a Labor Day crowd in Cincinnati with a reference to “Barbarians at the Gate.” Conservative websites like Newsbusters are pointing out that Biden’s remark received little coverage, and oddly, so is liberal website Crooks and Liars. In the spirit of bipartisanship, I’m going to agree that Biden’s remarks deserve more attention.

Here’s the portion of Biden’s speech that has liberals and conservatives finally agreeing about something:


Transcript: (via MRC)

It’s a fight literally for our right to exist. Don’t misunderstand what this is. Don’t misunderstand- not a joke, not a joke, not an applause line. You are the only folks keeping the barbarians from the gates. You are the only non-governmental power. The only one who has the power and capacity to stop this onslaught. Ladies and gentleman, that’s why they want you so badly. The middle class is under attack because labor is under the most direct assault in generations. You know, to state simply what I stated two years ago at some of your national conventions, the other side has declared war on labors house and it’s about time we stand up!

NewsbustersTom Blumer correctly details the lack of coverage, but misses the point (deliberately or not) of Biden’s “Barbarians” reference (while also promoting the lie that Hoffa was “threatening” anyone):

Biden’s statement is in an important aspect more problematic than the more widely (but not sufficiently widely) noted “son of a b*tches” comment made by Teamsters President James Hoffa Jr. in Detroit yesterday at a Labor Day event President Obama keynoted. While Hoffa was threatening and hateful, he was at least in theory speaking only for Big Labor (though Obama has essentially adopted it by not condemning it). In Cincinnati, Biden, who was elected to serve all citizens of the country, personally characterized a large plurality of those he is supposed to be serving with a word which means “savage, primitive, uncivilized persons.” Biden’s “barbarians”comment has received very light establishment press coverage…

For crying out loud, Hoffa is not a “junior!”

Was Biden really characterizing “a large plurality of those he is supposed to be serving” as “savage, primitive, uncivilized persons?”

Clearly, the answer is no on both counts. First of all, he’s clearly referring, as Hoffa was, to elected officials (“You are the only non-governmental power” is the subtle tip-off), not to ordinary citizens.

Secondly, Biden’s use of the word “barbarians,” apt though it may be for some in Congress, is a clear reference to the corporate raiders in the film “Barbarians at the Gate.” In the post-Citizens United world of unlimited corporate contributions, it’s an apt metaphor for workers’ struggle with Koch-funded, anti-labor politicians like Gov. Scott Walker.

For liberals like Crooks and Liars‘ Kenneth Quinnell, Biden’s speech was under-covered for an entirely different reason:

On Labor Day, despite all the focus on Jimmy Hoffa’s comments, it was actually Vice President Joe Biden whose speech was the most important one of the day. He gave the type of speech that labor supporters have long wanted to hear from the White House. The speech was fiery and was an accurate portrayal of the struggle that labor faces in the United States. The problem is we should’ve heard this speech from the president and it should’ve been given years ago and been matched with significant action.

Biden really did get fired up, and barbarianism aside, conservatives are as unlikely to enjoy it for that reason as liberals are likely to eat it up. If the mainstream media were to cover “Barbarians at the Gate”-gate, as conservatives would like, that would inevitably lead to a discussion of the merits of Biden’s core message. That’s a conversation that liberals would welcome, and that would make conservatives be a little more careful about what they wish for.

Here’s video of more of Biden’s speech, followed by his remarks as prepared for delivery. As you can see, the Vice President went off-script quite a bit, including his “Barbarians” riff:


Transcript of remarks as prepared for delivery: (via email from The Office of the Vice President)

REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT, AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY,

AT CINCINNATI AFL-CIO LABOR DAY PICNIC

Coney Island

Cincinnati, Ohio

It’s great to be back in Cincinnati, and especially out here at Coney Island.

You know, we’ve been through a lot of fights together, ever since you got me elected in 1972: Stopping the spread of right-to-work laws. Preserving the prevailing wage and worker safety standards and pension protections. Increasing the minimum wage, not gutting it. Strengthening Social Security and Medicare when the other side wanted privatization and vouchers to let them wither on the vine.

But this is a different kind of fight. A fight for the very heart and soul of the labor movement. A fight for the right to exist. It’s more like the fights of my grandfather’s era – to create the National Labor Relations Board, pass the Fair Labor Standards Act, and create unemployment insurance.

It’s more like the fights of my great-grandfather’s day, when workers risked their lives to stand up for basic working conditions and the very right to organize.
We’ve lost some battles along the way, too. But we’ve won when we’ve stayed together.

We’ve won when we placed the middle class above all.

We’ve won, when we’ve amassed our collective will and strength to defeat those who try to stymie American progress.

And we will win this fight the same way: together. Because, this, ladies and gentlemen–this is the fight of our life. Like you guys, the president and I know Labor Day is not about a day—it’s about a life.

It’s about the rights too many people take for granted today – basic things like the forty-hour week and the minimum wage. Today is about remembering that none of those rights would exist if folks like you hadn’t stood up and fought for them. Inch by inch, unions remade our country over the last century. You made it fairer, you made it stronger, more just, and in the process you built the middle class.

I’ll say that again, because it bears repeating: The middle class as we know it would not exist but for organized labor. And, what’s more, the battles labor won raised the standard of living not just for labor—but for all Americans. And, in the process, you built the middle class.

And right now, the middle class is under attack, because labor is under the most direct assault in generations, in your lifetimes. The other side has declared war on labor’s house.

Across the country, from here in Ohio, to Wisconsin and Florida, they’re reopening fights we thought were settled a long time ago.

Governors are rolling back collective bargaining rights. They’re trying to pass paycheck deception laws and pushing for right to work for less laws. And in Washington, the new Republican House majority is going after Davis-Bacon, going after Project Labor Agreements, going after the Department of Labor and the protections workers need in the workplace.

The same guys who came up with subprime mortgages, derivatives, and credit default swaps are the same guys who further cut taxes for the super-wealthy, shifting the burden to ordinary people.

They’re same guys who tried to privatize Social Security and now want to voucherize Medicare.

The result of their actions for the previous eight years, before we took office, not only weakened labor but thrust our country into the deepest recession we’ve ever had short of a Depression.

By the time they left, 8 million people lost their jobs, and we went from a budget surplus to one hemorrhaging debt. And, now, in the irony of all ironies, they are using their failed economic policy and excesses to justify taking away your right to bargain for safe work conditions, a livable wage, and decent health care—rather than acknowledge their excesses and begin to pay their fair share.

It’s absurd. They not only want you—but they want your children and your parents—to pay the price for their folly. It’s a scam.

What we’re fighting for is what my great-grandfather’s generation fought for, my grandfather’s generation, and my father’s fought for. They fought for the right to be heard. They fought for social justice and economic justice.

They stood up for a fundamental American promise – we know it as the American Dream. If you work hard, play by the rules, love your country, there’s nothing you cannot achieve. That every American who does that is entitled to a decent job, live in a safe neighborhood, send your kids to college – and have some savings in the bank when you retire.

And that’s what our generation—that’s what all of you—that’s what Barack and I are fighting for.

That’s why we appointed the daughter of a Teamster, a Congresswoman with a strong pro-labor record, as Secretary of Labor.

That’s why we fought to put thousands of auto workers back to work, making a decent wage, right here in Ohio.

That’s why we put people on the National Labor Relations Board who are there are to protect the rights of workers—not strip the rights of workers.

That’s why we fought so hard to pass the Affordable Care Act, ensuring decent health care for every American.

That’s why we’re cracking down on worker misclassification, so employers can’t avoid paying taxes and deny workers benefits and protections.

That’s why we oppose a plan to ultimately make Medicare a voucher program.

That’s why we continue to provide unemployment insurance to those who lost their jobs through no fault of their own.

That’s why we’re encouraging Project Labor Agreements on government construction projects.

That’s why we cut the payroll tax, saving the average American family a thousand dollars a year in taxes.

That’s why we passed the Recovery Act, to save and create jobs—tens of thousands of them right here in Ohio.

But we need to do more to ensure that our children’s generation will grow as we did. Their future rests on our growth and competitiveness. In order to grow and compete, we need better education, more innovation, and stronger infrastructure—and our opponents are attacking every one of these initiatives.
They want to cut infrastructure by 30%; cut investment in renewable energy by 70%; and cut education by 25%.

But here’s what we want to do. Help with tuition so you can afford to send your kids to college. Invest in research and development so America can create whole new industries and capture the jobs of tomorrow as America has always done. Improve our infrastructure so we can rebuild our roads and bridges – and build the transportation systems and communications systems we’ll need to win the future in order to stay #1 in the world.
We need to give our people the chance to keep showing the world what you and I already know: American workers can out-build, out-think, and out-work anyone else on earth.

Folks, you and I both know that a lot of Americans are still hurting and hurting badly. Millions still unemployed. And millions more underemployed and with stagnant wages.

You know, my dad used to tell me that a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity—respect –your place in the community. It’s about your ability to hold your head high, and to look your children in the eye and say “everything’s going to be OK.” That’s what a job is.

Labor, it’s time to stand up. It’s time to say we’ve had enough. It’s time to demand your place back at the table, in a position of respect, as equals. It’s time to turn the tide, in Wisconsin, in Pennsylvania, in Florida, everywhere the basic right to bargain fairly is under attack. And it seems to me that’s exactly what you’re doing here in Ohio. Standing up, along with one million, three-hundred-thousand of your fellow Buckeyes who signed a petition demanding a referendum on Senate Bill 5.

The tide is turning, because Americans, union and non-union, are beginning to understand just what these guys are about.

It is basically about the American Dream—that if you work hard, play by the rules, love this country, there’s nothing you cannot achieve.

You’ve helped build that dream, and you’re the lifeblood that will sustain that dream.

Folks—those other guys see the world differently than we do. They have different priorities. They have a different vision.

But it’s not only the vision that’s different—they just have a different value set than you and me and President Obama. We’re not only about building a better infrastructure, providing educational opportunities, and promoting innovative ideas that will keep us the most prosperous country in the world in the 21st Century—we know it’s about more than that.

It’s about dignity. It’s about respect. And, above all, it’s about basic fairness. That’s what America stands for all around the world—fairness. And that is what we must demand at home.

An ancient Greek philosopher Sophocles, once said, “Without labor nothing prospers.”
We know that America will not prosper without you. And, together, we will make sure it does.

So, I ask you to join me in this fight. Will you stand with me? Will you join forces to do what unions have done for a century now: secure fundamental rights and spark American progress?

Folks—no one ever gave it to us—our grandfathers and grandmothers fought for it, our parents fought for it, and we’ve got to fight for it. Fight to keep the American Dream alive.

We’re not going to let anyone roll back the clock.

Thank you all. God bless you, and may God protect our troops. Thank you, and have a great Labor Day!

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