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Biden, Joining Presidential Race, Promises To Rekindle Fire Of Idealism

June 10, 1987 GMT

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) _ Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. officially entered the 1988 Democratic presidential race Tuesday, talking of bitter truths and hard choices but promising to ″rekindle the fire of idealism in our society.″

The Delaware Democrat proclaimed the overriding issue is what kind of nation will be left to America’s children, whether policies will take the course of ″quick and false prosperity by consuming our children’s future″ or the more difficult path dedicated to ″guaranteeing to our children their birthright.″

Time and again, Biden, 44, talked of how his generation is ready to ″reclaim its special legacy″ and lead the country, echoing the words of John F. Kennedy.

″In the spirit of another time, let us pledge that our generation of Americans pay any price, bear any burden, accept any challenge, meet any hardship to secure the blessings of prosperity and promise of America for our children,″ Biden told cheering supporters under threatening skies at the refurbished Wilmington train station.

In his 1961 presidential inaugural address, Kennedy used much the same words to say America stood ready to defend freedom around the world.

Biden was introduced by Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate’s Iran-Contra committee, who broke away from the Senate-House hearings on the affair to share the platform with the candidate. ″We are going to call″ on Biden ″to lead this nation, to restore our honor,″ Inouye told the crowd of about 2,000.

Biden is ″not double-dealing and weasel-mouthed - we’ve had enough of that,″ Inouye said.

The Delaware Democrat is the fifth Democrat formally in the race, a contest still in turmoil after the abrupt withdrawal of then front-runner Gary Hart last month after disclosures of relationship with a Miami mode.

The other announced Democratic candidates are Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri, former Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona, Gov. Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts, and Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois. Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee will announce June 29, an aide said Tuesday. The Rev. Jesse Jackson are expected to announce later this year.

Biden, a three-term senator and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is little known nationwide, rating only low single digits in polls at this early point in the campaign.

The train station where Biden began his campaign was a familiar one, for he began many a working day as he commuted from his Wilmington home to Washington.

After the speech, Biden and his family waved goodbye from the rear of a chartered train. The train pulled out of the station, then stopped to pick up the news crews who had photographed the departure.

Biden followed his usual route, stopping in the nation’s capital for a presidential campaign rally at a somewhat unusual site - the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill.

″This has been my home away from home,″ he said in the building’s rotunda. ″And the Capitol across the street has been my school. ... It’s here I’ve been professionally prepared for the journey I begin today.″

Then Biden headed to Iowa and New Hampshire, key early states in the 1988 process. Later in the week, Biden will meet former President Carter in Georgia.

In a late-night stop in Iowa, Biden vowed to couple his emotional speaking style with a grinding round of grassroots campaigning that aides said would bring him to the state 10 days a month this summer.

″I want to tell you we’re going to be here an awful lot,″ Biden told about 500 cheering supporters as he repeated his announcement speech.

Despite his low standing in most polls - the latest statewide survey showed him at 1 percent - campaign workers said he’s strongly organized among political activists and they released a list of 1,200 Iowa backers.

Family and children were the focus of Biden’s announcement speech. A total of 22 family members were on the stage with him, including his wife and three children.

″I run for president because I believe the 1988 election, at its heart, can be reduced to a fundamental choice between two paths to our future: the easy path, in which we consolidate our current comfort and a quick and false prosperity by consuming our children’s future; and another, more difficult path, that brings a more genuine prosperity, while guaranteeing to our children their birthright,″ he said.

Biden said it is a ″bitter truth, but one that must be told″ that the nation will be in economic decline unless Americans work harder and better.

But he said his message was a ″clarion call for my generation.″

″We must rekindle the fire of idealism in our society - for nothing suffocates the promise of America more than unbounded cynicism and indifference,″ he said.

Biden’s generational appeal, designed to reach many of the Baby Boom generation of voters who make up nearly half of the electorate, seeks to reverse what he says is a growing lack of faith in the nation’s institutions.

″It is in this gathering of discontent that my candidacy intends to find its voice,″ he said. ″For I believe that our citizenry contains untapped legions, whose success in other fields prepares them ... to transfuse the tired blood of our politics with new ideas, new approaches and new energy.

″I fervently believe that our people are ready and anxious, and that they will rise to this challenge and opportunity like a mighty river surging through the public life of America.″

Disdaining those who say the nation must be ″competitive″ in the world market, Biden declared:

″To say that we want to be ‘competitive’ acknowledges that we are already losing. I am not interested in losing. I want America to win - flat out win.″

As he began the ″arduous and improbable quest,″ Biden listed issues he called crucial.

″We cannot succumb to the isolationist instincts of those who would put up trade walls to keep out the world or others who would pull a ‘Star Wars’ cover over our heads - a modern Maginot line - ravaging our economic capital, nuclearizing the heavens and yielding the fate of our children’s world to the malfunction of a computer,″ said Biden, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Biden gained a reputation as a young man on the move when he unseated incumbent Republican Sen. J. Caleb Boggs in 1972. On Election Day, he was just weeks shy of 30 years old, the constitutionally required minimum for becoming a senator.

Before he took the oath of office, his wife and daughter were killed and his two sons were injured in a traffic accident. After considering not taking office, Biden did take the oath in a hospital where his sons were recuperating. Biden since has remarried.