GREELEY — At their nominating convention in Charlotte last month, the “CUPPA JOE” coffee mugs were slow movers in the Democratic souvenir stands. Wednesday morning, however, the Obama campaign could probably have peddled its entire overstock in Greeley, Colorado. Two thousand Weld County Democrats were up early to greet Joe Biden after their presidential candidate had proven the night before during his second debate with Mitt Romney that he still possessed a pulse. Although these party faithfuls weren’t getting the top of the ticket at the Island Grove venue, they seemed delighted to welcome a Vice President who’d taught his boss a lesson or two as he unrelentingly head slapped Paul Ryan for 90 minutes the week before. Whatever Joe’s been drinking, it appeared that Barack Obama shared a glass or two with his understudy even if he hadn’t drained the bottle.
There is something sleek about Joe Biden that reminds you of George Hamilton without the tan. After forty years on the national political stage he has acquired a set of verbal jiu-jitsu skills that allowed him to turn Ryan’s acknowledged seriousness and intelligence into a liability, slipping his telegraphed punches only to cuff Ryan behind the head, repeatedly knocking him off balance and leaving the Congressman scrambling for footing. It takes a lot of practice to make “my friend” sound like an insult. There also was a generational difference in political styles on exhibit during the Vice-Presidential debate, which left Ryan appearing to have arrived at an ice hockey rink prepared for a badminton match. In many ways their debate was probably a draw, but there’s little doubt that we haven’t seen the last of Paul Ryan and when he returns he’ll be a good bit smarter for the tough love lessons he took from Joe Biden.
It was appropriate that the Democratic crowd was still penned into a holding area on the lawn of the Greeley Independence Stampede grounds at 10:00 a.m, as the Secret Service completed its security sweep of the 4-H exhibit building. Unfortunately, there was a hypothermic Arctic breeze that set teeth chattering and sent ticket holders back to their cars for gloves and quilted jackets. It was apparent this was agricultural not ranching Colorado — plenty of sun and wind creased faces, wearing feedlot ball caps, dungarees and construction boots. The only cowboy hat in the hall perched on the head of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Once inside, a mother/daughter folk duo entertained the crowd.
The acoustics were dismal. A cement floor, designed for easy hosing to clean off manure, a serendipitous arrangement for a political meeting, coupled with a concrete beam ceiling and cinderblock walls echoed every word, sounding a lot like a bunch of school kids hollering inside a culvert. Periodically, a local Democrat would take the microphone to recite the usual Democratic talking points of the 2012 election season, and each was ignored in turn by a growingly boisterous audience waiting for a red meat jeremiad from the Vice President. They were not to be disappointed. Joe Biden is an entertainer like Willie Nelson — you always get more than you expected, but time passes so swiftly you hardly notice. For just over an hour, this happy warrior talked up his boss (“a steady hand and clear vision”), flogged Republicans in general and reserved his best barbs for commentary on Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. “Stuck in a time warp,” and “He won’t tell you what he’s going to do because you won’t like it,” that sort of thing.
His closing remarks stitched together a theme we are likely to hear more of in the closing weeks of this campaign. “Republicans have a fundamentally different view of this country than the President and myself. I don’t recognize the America they’re talking about — they see problems rather than promise, they see an America in decline,” Biden intoned. I strongly suspect this argument has been focus group tested and it certainly resonated with the rural Democrats in Greeley. Exhorted to return home and speak one more time with their neighbors, it appeared many of them planned to do just that — attempting a little, last minute persuasion with their Republican friends who may have expressed reservations about the Mormon from Massachusetts. And, don’t be surprised if the next Presidential debate on foreign policy doesn’t force a discussion of the possibility of another American war in the Middle East. The enthusiasm for that kind of an adventure appeared to be zero!
FOOTNOTE: Each time I journey to Greeley, I can’t help marveling that this bucolic Colorado crossroads was the incubator for the modern Muslim Brotherhood. In the early 1950s, when Sayyid Qutb traveled from Egypt to study education administration at what was then the Colorado State College for Education, it’s difficult to imagine how anyone would have concluded that Greeley was a cesspool of lascivious licentiousness. What could the good Christian farm girls training as schoolteachers have done to so unhinge his mind? Could they really have been the brazen libertines he wrote about upon his return to Cairo? He raved on about their “…expressive eyes and thirsty lips, their rounded breasts and seductive legs.” What would he have thought of Miami or Las Vegas?
This sounds to me more like the projection of his own libidinal impulses on the college community he joined than an accurate portrayal of mid-century American values. Qutb was horrified by the violence he witnessed at football games, the materialism of American life and the mixing of the sexes in the classroom. Easily offended, he returned to Egypt and reinvigorated the dormant Muslim Brotherhood with the slogan, “Islam is the Solution.” The solution to what, precisely? Certainly not to violence.
— Miller Hudson can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.