U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. delivered an impassioned speech on national security at the 2006 MBA Annual Conference's Annual Dinner on March 25, arguing for a dramatic change in the country's policies.
MBA President Warren Fitzgerald introduced Biden as "one of the Senate's most respected voices on foreign policy, civil rights and crime issues. Simply stated, he is and has been where the action is."
Biden began on a lighthearted note, explaining how, as he was first entering public service, there were suggestions he seek a judgeship. His response, he said, was, "I have much too much respect for the bench to ever serve on it."
His speech quickly turned to national and international policy, a speech brimming with disgust and scorn, yet optimistic that things could be put right.
"The first duty of government is to provide for public security," he said, arguing that it supersedes every other issue, because little can be accomplished without security. Recent events like Hurricane Katrina and Iraq, he said, show that the government is not keeping America safe.
"Washington is not only tone deaf," he said, "Washington has become dangerously incompetent."
"We must change our priorities as a nation," he said, arguing that money spent each year on the "Star Wars" anti-missile system or the president's tax cuts could fund comprehensive port security. "Our priorities are wrong, and dangerously wrong."
Biden argued that previous presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, most likely would have asked U.S. citizens to do something to help the country. To illustrate that point, Biden said that one of his strongest images from Sept. 11 was of New Yorkers lining up, block after block, to donate blood, even after they'd been told that no more donations were needed.
"It was a silent scream to help," he said. "Folks, the American people are way ahead of us in Washington. They're ready to act if we ask them.
"I believe, with every fiber of my being, that we've absolutely being given the opportunity to make hope and history rhyme," he said. "We will be judged harshlyÉ if we do not take advantage of the opportunity that's been given to us. I believe it can be done."
Earlier in the evening, MBA President-elect Mark Mason praised State Senate President Robert E. Travaglini, presenting him the Legislator of the Year award.
"President Travaglini has proven to be a true leader," Mason said, noting that he was instrumental in last year's fight to increase bar advocate pay.
"President Travaglini has played an important role in every piece of legislation affecting the judiciary for many, many years," Mason said.
Travaglini, in brief remarks, quipped, "Since I have $25 billion to spread aroundÉ pay attention." But he said he takes the concerns of the profession very seriously, even though he's not a lawyer.
"If there's a cause or a case that warrants my attention, it gets it. It doesn't get bumped," he said, promising that he wouldn't forget the legal profession during budget negotiations. "We will not disappoint you in the next six weeks."