NASHUA - Sen. Joe Biden said Monday that Democrats lost the last two presidential elections in part because they let themselves be portrayed as anti-God.
Democrats have been too afraid to talk about faith, Biden said at a Rotary Club luncheon. But what voters really want to know is whether a president believes in something bigger than themselves and whether he or she respects the faith of others, he said.
"No one ever accused Bill Clinton of being a citadel of virtue, even from the start. How was it that he got 58 percent of the Catholic vote? How was it that he got almost half the evangelical vote?"
It wasn't because they thought Clinton believed as they did, Biden said. "When he sat next to you in a Catholic church or a fundamentalist church, he respected your views," he said. "Fair or unfair, when Al Gore sat in that church, when John Kerry sat in that church pew, the perception was: 'Maybe he doesn't really respect my view.'"
Biden, a practicing Catholic, acknowledged that he rarely has talked about religion in his 34-year Senate career, but suggested that would change if he wins the nomination.
"I can hardly wait for one of these guys on the other side tell me about family values," Biden said.
"I can hardly wait for them to tell me — a guy who's commuted for 34 years to get home and put my kids to bed," he said. "I can hardly wait for them to tell me — a guy who's been married for 30 years when they've been divorced three times."
Fellow Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani, who occasionally brings up his Catholic upbringing, has been divorced twice. In contrast, though, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has been married to his high-school sweetheart for 38 years.
The Democratic Party also has allowed itself to be manipulated on national security, Biden said.
"We did not nominate the last two times someone who could in fact lay on the table unimpeachable credentials on national security," he said.
Wandering out to audience and banging on a table for emphasis, Biden said national security is the overriding concern around the nation.
"It's not about the war, it's about how are you going to get us out of the war and it's about what are you going to do? Do you have the depth and breadth of knowledge on foreign policy and national security to lead us through what is going to be a pretty difficult decade?"
Biden spent most of his speech describing his plan for Iraq, which includes withdrawing almost all U.S. forces by the end of the year, leaving a residual force to train Iraqi security forces. He would then decentralize the country and divide it into three semiautonomous regions of Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis.
In the meantime, more must be done to provide returning soldiers and other veterans with better health care, education and job opportunities, he said.
"If the government has any single sacred responsibility, it is to care for those who we send to war and who come back in bad shape," Delaware senator said.
Though he didn't go into details during his speech, Biden proposes improving health care for veterans by setting higher standards at medical facilities and ending private contracts for maintenance at those facilities. He promised to smooth the transition from active duty to veteran status by hiring more caseworkers and modernizing medical record keeping. Relatives caring for wounded soldiers would be eligible for one year of family medical leave.
"I want to make sure no one misunderstands what a Joe Biden presidency would be like," he said. "If I only had $10 to spend and you tell me it costs $9 to meet our obligations to these vets, I'm going to spend all $9 on them before I spend a penny on any of you. I'm going to spend all $9 on them before I spend a penny on health care, before I spend a penny on highways, before I spend a penny on education. ... They're the only ones making a sacrifice now."