Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from the LA Times

« Previous Post | Top of the Ticket Home | Next Post »

Joe Biden update: A long toast in Georgia (the other one)

July 23, 2009 |  1:24 am

Joe Biden and his big plane in Tbilisi Georgia 7-22-09

When we last left the Veeper, Joe Biden had stopped having "private meetings" in favor of "meetings closed to press."

Let it go. No one knows the difference. It's transparently opaque.

But now the very longtime Delaware senator who loves Amtrak is off (by plane) on another foreign foray reaffirming close U.S. ties with places very far away that most Americans don't know we're close to until there's a war there.

Which, not coincidentally, is what happened last year where Biden is right now, in Georgia. Remember the Russians came storming into the new democracy and Republican Sen. John McCain, who knows a little about war, immediately denounced the aggression and the vacationing Democrat Barack Obama initially put out word that both sides should cool it but then he realized how that sounded, and toughened the rhetoric in support of Georgia.

So after lecturing squabbling Ukrainian politicians about tidying up their democratic operations, Biden showed up in Georgia on Wednesday where they threw a big dinner for him at President Mikheil Saakashvili's new $40-million mansion (all part of the trappings of democracy), where the local president gave the visiting vice president the Order of St. George, which is a big deal.

The Georgian president was effusive in his praise for Biden, recalling in his toast a story about dining with the soon-to-be vice president during Russian air attacks last summer. “Joe, my dear friend," he said, "it is such a great pleasure to have you back in Georgia.”

He said as the two men were sitting at a nearby restaurant, “Russian aircraft were flying very low over us and you refused to let the waiter turn off the lights at that restaurant.”

Maybe you had to be there that night to fully grasp the moment.

Anyway, Biden was equally effusive in his reciprocal praise. So while we await another mind-numbing presidential town hall on healthcare (this one in Cleveland, which has been specially reopened for Obama's visit today), we're sharing the V-man's speech. It's a little confusing in a couple of places as he gets rambling, but pretty short by Biden standards.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Don't miss any future Russian invasions. Click here for Twitter alerts on each new Ticket item. Or follow us    @latimestot

The following is an unedited transcript:

Vice President Biden's remarks at dinner hosted by President Saakashvili in Tbilisi, Georgia, July 22, 2009

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN:  Well, thank you very much, Mr. President. What a great honor. We say, Mr. President, the greatest honor is to be back in the presence of all of you -- and under not ideal circumstance, but better circumstances than when I was here last. 

Mr. President, friends, colleagues -- particularly to your grandmother and to your mother and your beautiful wife -- I say thank you for the hospitality you extended to me when I was here last. And thank you today. 

I accept this honor bestowed on me. Quite frankly, I accept it not only with a great deal of . . .

. . . gratitude, but on behalf of my country, because my ability to give any consequence -- any help to you is a direct consequence of the willingness of the American people to stand up and support freedom. And as you know, Mr. President, that's a bipartisan sentiment in my country.

Let me say that one year ago, when I came to Georgia, it was under very different and difficult circumstances. I was proud to stand with you then. And the reason I'm back, and the reason President Obama asked me to come back, was to send an unequivocal, clear, simple message to all who will listen, and those who even don't want to listen, that America stands with you at this moment and will continue to stand with you. (Applause.) 

Ladies and gentlemen, Georgians, Mikheil, I want to be clear why we stand with you. We stand with you because we were, first and foremost, inspired by your quest for independence. The Rose Revolution, as it's become -- referred to from the outset -- and the voice of the Georgian people were a clarion call to freedom-loving people around the globe -- everyone who loves freedom and democracy, and even more importantly, those who yearn for it, those who yearn for it and do not have it.

In fact, I heard that call, and they heard it very clearly.

So what you did, what your people did, extended well beyond the borders of Georgia. Look today when you see people amassed in squares, where their freedom is not at hand, but to continue to strive for it -- the reference to your Rose Revolution. And it continues to be spoken of. The Rose Revolution was a clear signal to the world that we have entered the 21st century, and the shackles of the 20th century have been shed.

And it's our collective responsibility to make sure that they are not once again put upon you or any other freedom-loving people.

We're committed to Georgia, as well, as a vital partner in the progress that we seek in Europe and beyond.  The United States wants to build a multi-partner world in which nations make common cause of common concerns.

With Georgia, our partnership involves meeting security challenges. Because we are grateful, as well, I might add, to Georgia's soldiers who stand next to ours, and are being trained now to stand with ours in Afghanistan. It includes our commitment to your energy-security you're providing for many others. We welcome Georgia's role, literally as a bridge for natural resources flowing from east to west. 

Our partnership rests on a foundation of shared democratic ideals, and we will continue to support your work and deepen Georgia’s democracy. And our partnership includes a determination to build even stronger bonds, not only between our governments, but equally as important, among our people: to welcome Georgian students in larger and larger numbers to American universities and to encourage American students to study here in Georgia; to help American and Georgian entrepreneurs forge new paths of economic progress; to nurture the life blood of any democracy, is civil society, that holds all governments, including yours and mine accountable.

Georgia may be small as you referenced, Mr. President, but I have learned it has a very, very big heart.  (Applause.) And even more, the power of your example brings with it responsibilities to continue to inspire others in their quest for democracy, and securing an independence against all odds.

There a famous letter that an American President, Thomas Jefferson, wrote to one of his political rivals, John Adams. John Adams is our second President and one of our founders, and Jefferson our third. In their aging -- after they both had no longer been President, they had a long, long correspondence until each of them died, coincidentally on the same day. And in one of those letters, Thomas Jefferson said, and I'm paraphrasing, that those who bring about revolutions seldom see them come to fruition -- seldom see the democracy take root.

This is going to be different. You all know that your Declaration of Independence and your Rose Revolution were the beginning of the process. In a sense, some of the real hard part is now left.  You mentioned protesters -- welcome to democracy. Welcome to democracy. (Applause.) We are very accustomed to protesters. 

But you are in the process of building those institutional attributes that a country needs to maintain a democracy. And I am not exaggerating when I say many other people in the world are looking to you to see whether or not you can bring the revolution to full fruition and dig those roots -- plants those roots of democracy very deep.

Every progressive nation has a stake in your success. Every progressive nation in the world has a stake in your success, particularly nations in this region, and that makes Georgia a very important nation for the future of this region, this continent, and the world.

So I would like to -- if I had a glass in my hand, which I'm going to get -- with your permission, raise my glass in a toast to Georgia's success and to your fierce determination to be independent, sovereign, democratic, and free. Thank you very much. To Georgia.  (Applause.) Thank you, Mr. President.   

Photo credit: David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters