Biden lists Romney’s foreign-policy flaws, in an N.Y.U. speech overtaken by a ‘big stick’

General Wesley Clark. (Reid Pillifant)
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It didn't take anything at all to warm up the crowd for Vice President Joe Biden's big foreign policy speech at New York University this morning.

At exactly 10:30, the scheduled start time, the buoyant Motown music stopped and a hush fell over the crowd of college Democrats and other assorted supporters who had packed into the small Vanderbilt Hall.

And then the music came back on, and everyone laughed.

When Biden came out fifteen minutes later, flanked by one of N.Y.U.'s college Democrats, the crowd roared. When the college Democrat said she was also an Obama campaign volunteer, everyone roared again. And when she said she was from New Hampshire, someone yelled out, "Yeah! New Hampshire!"

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But that was pretty much the apex of the excitement.

Rather than rile up the crowd with anything resembling a campaign rally, Biden delivered a sober, subdued foreign policy address, aimed squarely at the presumptive Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

The pullquote from the speech, which immediately took over the internet, was a classically Bidenesque twist on Teddy Roosevelt: "I promise you, the president has a big stick."

But that was about all the crowd got of the Onion-ized, "big fucking deal" Biden. The rest was the Biden who prides himself on being a foreign-policy wonk and who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The bulk of the speech was a point-by-point dismantling of Romney quotes on foreign policy. (Biden began each one with "quote," and ended with "end quote.")

Biden made a big point of Romney's remark in 2008 that he rely heavily on the State Department for foreign policy advice.

“In my view, the last thing I think we need is a president who will subcontract our foreign policy to some expert at the State Department,” he said. “That kind of thinking may work for a C.E.O., but it cannot and will not work for a president, and it will not work for a commander in chief.”

The vice president also pushed a relatively new line to encapsulate the re-election campaign.

"If you are looking for a bumper sticker to sum up how President Obama has handled what we inherited, it’s pretty simple:  Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive," he said.

He suggested that neither of those things would be true if Romney were in charge.

And he seized on Romney's remarks that Russia remains America's biggest geopolitical foe, accusing him of being stuck in "a Cold War mentality." The Romney campaign had gifted him some support for that claim just before the speech when a Romney adviser, on a conference call to prebut the vice president's address, attacked the administration's policy toward Czechoslovakia, which officially split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

After the speech, the campaign led reporters to the front row of the hall, where about a dozen experts and surrogates were milling around giving interviews.

"We're not out of the woods by far, there are a lot of challenges out there," said retired general Wesley Clark, a former Democratic presidential candidate. "We need a steady hand and a strong hand."

Outside, a small crowd gathered around some Secret Service barricades on West Third Street, awaiting the vice president's arrival. When a middle-aged woman with a Scandinavian-sounding accent wondered what was going on, a New York Post photographer told her it was Joe Biden.

"Biden?" she said in a thick accent.

"Joe Biden, the vice president," the photographer said.

She squinted her eyes unknowingly and walked away.