NEW ORLEANS — Vice President Joe Biden hammered on some of President Barack Obama's re-election themes at a conference for black media professionals, casting this fall's election as a referendum on the country's character.
"This is about more than the economy -- it's about who the hell we are," Biden told members of the National Association of Black Journalists at their annual convention. Biden returned repeatedly to the idea of shared national sacrifice, and said an additional tax cut for the highest earners would make poor and middle-class Americans feel like they were being used. "There's only one group of people who hasn't had to give up anything," he said, referring to the wealthy.
Biden criticized Republicans for not cooperating with the president's proposals, which he said included many that the GOP had supported in the past. "This ain't your father's Republican Party," he said.
Biden tailored his speech to his audience, mentioning Obama administration policies that particularly benefited blacks, including the expansion of Pell Grants, which help low-income students pay for college, and the president's signature health care law, which Biden said extended health coverage to 8 million African Americans. He suggested that African Americans and women would fare more poorly if Republican challenger Mitt Romney wins. "Imagine what the Supreme Court will look like after three years of a Romney presidency," Biden said. "Imagine what it will mean for traditional civil rights, women's rights and so much more."
But even as he cast Romney as regressive on social and economic issues, Biden called him an "honorable man" and praised the Romney family for the way they have dealt with Ann Romney's health.
There was friendly applause from the audience of several hundred throughout Biden's speech. One of the NABJ organizers said 2,200 people registered for the convention.
The convention took place against a dire backdrop: Last week, the New Orleans Times-Picayune announced it was laying off 200 staffers and would begin publishing only three days a week.
"New Orleans now becomes the largest metro area without a daily newspaper in this digital age," Gregory H. Lee, the NABJ president, said. "The economy is very hard. Journalism is no exception."
African Americans were hit especially hard by the newspaper’s layoffs. A study by the non-profit journalism think tank Poynter Institute found that 14 of the 26 blacks in the newsroom lost their jobs. The city is more than half black, according to the latest census.
"I'm the only black business writer," said Roy Williams, who worked for one of the Picayune's sister publications, to Journal-isms last week. "The only two black editors. All five black zone reporters. All three black copy editors. The only black editorial writer, who has been here 30 years. It hit us really hard."
At the start of the event, Lee flubbed his introduction to Biden, referring to him as the 42nd president of the United States. The crowd noticed the error and laughed, and Biden waved his hands as if encouraging the idea.
Lee said NABJ had extended an invitation to the Romney campaign, but there was no response.