Throughout the Democratic primary, former Vice President Joe Biden struggled to find a message. He frequently fell-back on Obama-era nostalgia and rarely delivered a clear, arresting speech—on the debate stage or off—that exuded the kind of steadfast demeanor one hopes for in a president. But Biden defied expectations when he accepted the Democratic nomination for president Thursday night, delivering a rousing speech that condemned Trumpism and paved a path forward amid a deadly pandemic and steep ideological divides.
He did it, fittingly, by drawing a sharp contrast between himself and President Trump on the final night of the Democratic National Convention, saying he will be an “ally of light” who will end what he calls a “season of darkness” in America:
The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division.
Here and now, I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us not the worst. I will be an ally of the light not of the darkness.
It’s time for us, for we the people, to come together. For make no mistake. United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America. We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege.
Much of the DNC has been light on hammering home the Democratic Party platform, focusing instead on the goodness of Biden and the badness of Trump. While the Democrats might be able to pull off a November victory on Trump fatigue alone this time around, the lack of attention given to specific policy agendas was often glaring. But Biden managed to squeeze some in. He touched on ending tax loopholes that reward the ultra-wealthy, raising wages, preserving the Affordable Care Act, providing clean energy jobs, and improving immigration policy. He didn’t get into the weeds, but perhaps brevity was for the best; do we really need hour-long acceptance speeches? Besides, Biden saved a little specificity for the covid-19 portion of his speech, lingering on the importance of deploying rapid testing for covid-19 and manufacturing protective gear in the United States, bypassing our dependence on China for such vital resources. He lambasted Trump in the process, not-so-subtly referencing the president’s disdain toward Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“We’ll put the politics aside and take the muzzle off our experts so the public gets the information they need and deserve,” Biden said. “The honest, unvarnished truth. They can deal with that. We’ll have a national mandate to wear a mask — not as a burden, but to protect each other. It’s a patriotic duty. In short, I will do what we should have done from the very beginning.”
His grilling of Trump continued, with Biden accusing the president of failing “in his most basic duty to this nation” which is to protect the American people, a move Biden called “unforgivable.”
There were a few moments during Biden’s speech that were eyebrow-raising. The decision to open with a quote from Ella Baker, a civil rights icon and staunch anti-capitalist, was surprising to say the least. And that Biden—a man who believes that Medicare-for-all is a pipe dream—said that we’ll be the generation to eradicate racism was, unfortunately, laughable. His pledge to help immigrants may also provide cold comfort for some given the Obama administration’s grim legacy of deportation and his emphasis on lowering premiums and deductibles felt antiquated after a primary with two formidable candidates who suggested doing away with them entirely. Still, the bar was low, and Biden rose above it, handily.
The success of his speech didn’t go unnoticed by those across the aisle either. Even Fox News’s Laura Ingraham admitted that he delivered a “good speech” and avoided a “senior moment.” Her guest, Donald Trump Jr, wasn’t having it, and immediately devolved into a sputtering mess.
The gears must be turning in Trump land: They were relying on Biden’s apparent senility. Now, that’s looking like a heavier lift. Even President Trump himself only managed a feeble tweet following Biden’s speech. “In 47 years, Joe did none of the things of which he now speaks,” Trump wrote. “He will never change, just words!”
Maybe so, but on Thursday night, the words did what they needed to do.