Joe Biden has just left the stage here at AIPAC, following a rousing, funny, slightly defensive, at times discursive, but overall loving speech before the assembled masses here.
The stats on his speech:
6.5 standing ovations
11 jokes thrown
6 jokes landed
One really long Golda Meir story
First, credit must be paid to Biden’s rhetorical skills. In an environment like this, it seems impossible not to love him and, noting the strength of his record, if an audience was ever geared to love a man, it was this one. Following his stride onto the stage, he was met by Ehud Barak, who promptly gave him a long bearhug.
Early in the speech, Biden feigned this little gaffe, which adroitly showed how chummy he is with Barak, while talking about how the two have been coordinating on security matters:
“Ehud and I, I mean, the Defense Minister and I spent a lot of time on the phone…”
That was only the beginning of the Biden master class. The speech started with a whisper, Biden name-dropping his late friend Tom Lantos–the only Holocaust survivor to serve in Congress (saved by Raoul Wallenberg)–whose wife was in attendance. He pumped the crowd up with an extended love-letter to Ehud Barak (“I’m a fan of this man.”), which turned into a standing ovation for the outgoing defense minister.
He spoke about learning about the need for a Jewish state at the dinner table with his father. The message was simple: Never be dependent on anyone else for your security. This was a refrain he would repeat throughout the speech.
Then, Biden dropped his whisper and turned into a shout as he went from personal to political in acting as emissary for President Obama to the crowd, a task which seemed considerably more difficult than representing himself. This was understandable: Participants streaming into the venue were treated to animated maps of the Middle East with Israel the target of lobs–vitriolic and other. It was Biden’s job to deflect criticism of the president about the various dangers facing Israel that AIPAC had been trumpeting.
He listed them immediately: the tenuous footing of the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, Iran, its nuclear program and its sponsorship of Hamas and Hezbollah, and the efforts to delegitimize Israel across the world. Biden called them all existential threats: “All pressures similar but different, all put enormous pressure on Israel.”
At one point during the shouting, Biden, as he was listing all of the Obama administration’s efforts to support Israel’s military advantage and enhance security cooperation, turned to face Barak, who was seated feet away on the stage and waited for a nod from Barak, which came (with, perhaps, a scintilla of envy at the performance). Iron Dome. Intelligence. Military aid. On he went.
“I’ve served with 8 presidents,” he bellowed. “And no one has done more to physically secure Israel than President Obama.”
He went onto to defend the administration’s approach to Syria–which Senator John McCain had just pilloried moments before–explaining that “Assad must go” but that it wasn’t in American’s interest to supplant one murderous regime with another and that the Syrian opposition had to be vetted. He spoke about the lack of other credible alternatives in Egypt and, of course, spent time reaffirming that Iran would not get a nuclear weapon citing the “shared strategic committment to prevent Iran for acquiring a nuclear weapon, Period, End of discussion.”
Despite all the muscularity, he only got half of a standing ovation when he averred that President Obama “doesn’t bluff.” That might have been the most telling moment of all.
It was a classic Biden performance, delivering a salesman pitch that his boss could never (and would never) give.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.