MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CN) — Seeking a path out of historic chaos and back to the promise of America, Democrats stressed the vitality of voting and threw their support behind former Vice President Joe Biden as he accepted the party’s presidential nomination at the close of their convention Thursday night.
Featuring light-hearted moderation from actor and television VP Julia Louis-Dreyfus, established and up-and-coming Democrats made their final case for Biden as the candidate with the character and empathetic spirit necessary to uplift a country under siege by the coronavirus, a massive economic downturn and a nationwide reckoning over racial injustice in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
After emotional video testimonials from his children and grandchildren, Biden, officially nominated by Democrats on Tuesday, accepted the nomination in a 20-minute speech that framed the Nov. 3 election as an opportunity to welcome back America’s better angels and turn away from the distress and division characterizing our national moment.
“It is with great honor and humility that I accept this nomination for President of the United States of America,” Biden said.
The former vice president and veteran senator repeatedly emphasized love, dignity, unity and hope as the quintessentially American virtues that will lead a suffering nation out of what he called “a perfect storm” of four historic crises: the coronavirus pandemic, the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the urgent demonstrations for racial justice and the looming existential threat of climate change.
“United we can, and will, overcome this season of darkness in America,” Biden said. “We will choose hope over fear, facts over fiction, fairness over privilege.”
Biden also summoned his longstanding reputation as a lawmaker savvy in the ways of compromise, saying that “while I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president” because “America isn’t just a collection of clashing interests of red states or blue states.”
The Democratic nominee advocated for finding a path of “hope and light” instead of one of “shadow and suspicion,” a call to action Donald Trump is unable or unwilling to answer as “a president who takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators and fans the flames of hate and division.”
Biden pledged that, once elected, he would develop and deploy rapid coronavirus testing with immediately available results as part of a plan he has been developing since March to subdue a pandemic with no end in sight because “we’ll never have our lives back until we deal with this virus” and “no miracle is coming.”
Having lost a wife and daughter to a car accident and a son to brain cancer, Biden spoke directly to those who lost loved ones to Covid-19 as someone literate in the agonies of grief.
“First, know your loved ones may have left this Earth but they never leave your heart…and second, I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose,” Biden said.
On a policy level, Biden spoke broadly about creating 5 million dignified, good-paying manufacturing jobs, rebuilding vital infrastructure, dealing with climate change as a job-generating opportunity to become a bastion of clean energy and building on the Affordable Care Act signed into law by his friend and former boss Barack Obama.
After recounting the tragic events in Charlottesville of three years ago and his memories of speaking with George Floyd’s daughter Gianna on the day her father was buried, Biden once again called for love, unity and purpose.
“May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation,” he said, trying to rouse the nation heading into an election he and several other speakers over the course of Thursday night held up as the most consequential in American history.
Earlier in the evening, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, herself recently recovered from Covid-19, urged people in Georgia and beyond to get engaged and make their voices heard in the uphill battle toward the country’s recovery, in particular by casting ballots and getting personally involved in the political process at a historic juncture.
Bottoms honored late Georgia Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis, tracing from his example the transformative power of civic engagement in times of national turbulence.
“People often think they can’t make a difference like our civil rights icons, but every person in the movement mattered—those who made the sandwiches, swept the church floors, stuffed the envelopes,” Bottoms said. “They, too, changed America.”
In advance of a segue into a video tribute to Lewis, Bottoms reiterated the ballot box as an essential means to speak truth to power.
“We have cried out for justice, we have gathered in our streets to demand change, and now, we must pass on the gift John Lewis sacrificed to give us, we must register and we must vote,” the mayor said.
New Mexico Representative Deb Halaand, a Pueblo Indian, offered lessons learned from her experiences and her family’s experiences struggling for basic democratic rights.
“I stand here today, a proud 35th generation New Mexican and one of the first Native American women elected to Congress,” a background she painted as living proof of America’s resilience before joining the night’s chorus of voices calling to get out the vote.
“Voting is sacred. My people know that,” Halaand said, pointing out that Native Americans were not guaranteed the right to vote in every state until 1962.
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin from Wisconsin also spoke to Biden’s ability to lead America with integrity and backbone toward the country it has always promised to become.
Baldwin portrayed that country as an inclusive one “because most of us want the same things: good schools in our neighborhoods, racial justice, the freedom to love who we want, dignity in our work, and an economy where small businesses and working families thrive.”
The Badger State senator brought to mind working with Biden and Obama to pass the Affordable Care Act as a prominent example of the results achieved by collaborating toward the country’s fairer, more compassionate ideals.
“That’s the America I know,” she said. “That’s the America I love. And that’s the America we will be with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House.”
A reflective group video featuring multiple former challengers to Biden for the 2020 Democratic nomination — including former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — endorsed Biden as an inherently good man with the reason and principles to lead the United States forward.
The former presidential hopefuls shared personal anecdotes where they bore witness to Biden’s ability to connect genuinely with the American people and build a workable consensus based on forward-thinking policy.
Andrew Yang, founder of the nonprofit Humanity Forward, playfully remarked that “the magic of Joe Biden is that everything he does becomes the new reasonable,” saying his pick of California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate is an indication that Biden wants to “build the best team.”
Sanders spoke to Biden’s suitability to heal the nation with his qualities of decency and empathy.
“And at this particular moment in American history, my God, that is something that this country absolutely needs,” Sanders said.
Reflecting on Thursday night’s program, Fernando Guerra, a professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, considered Biden’s speech middle-of-the-road but ultimately effective.
“This will not go down as one of the all time greatest acceptance speeches, but this was the perfect speech,” in that Biden spoke to his working class roots and came off as an approachable moderate Democrat while still paying lip service to the progressive left’s policy demands.
Mordecai Lee, a former representative in the Wisconsin Legislature and an emeritus professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, called the nominee’s speech “a grab bag of reassurances and promises” but said it accomplished portraying Biden as not an agent of the far-left while still being decidedly liberal.
“In terms of policy, he is presenting a policy agenda that is moderate left that Republicans aren’t scared by but Bernie bros aren’t unhappy about,” Lee said.
The professor said the success of the speech ultimately boils down to its ability to build a coalition, noting that this is perhaps the first time many people are meeting Joe Biden and that he came off as “likeable and moderate.”
However, the success of Biden’s acceptance speech, and the success of the historic virtual convention as a whole, remains to be seen.
“I think he hit the mark, but ask me the morning after the November election,” Lee said.