- The Magazine
Speaking to the Democratic National Convention on Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden made his closing argument for why voters should break with the Trump administration and elect him instead.
Invoking the words of civil rights leader Ella Baker, Biden cast himself as a candidate of “the light” — a hopeful, kinder, and more compassionate America — in contrast to an incumbent president with a penchant for sowing discord and exploiting existing divisions who demonstrates an inability to show empathy for others.
“The current president has cloaked America in darkness for much too long. Too much anger. Too much fear. Too much division,” Biden said. “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,” he added. “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. … This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment. It’s a moment that calls for hope and light and love. Hope for our futures, light to see our way forward, and love for one another.”
In the run-up to Biden’s speech, organizers of the 2020 Democratic Convention had carefully crafted a message that both critiqued President Trump’s performance as president and expressed an optimistic vision of a post-Trump America. Each speech, each video montage, each interview leading up Biden’s keynote address was deliberate, featuring testimonials from many of the vice president’s former rivals for the Democratic nomination.
Among those candidates was former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay Democratic candidate for the presidency, and the first to win a caucus, speaking remotely from his hometown.
Drawing on his own experiences, Buttigieg touted the progress that the LGBTQ community has made, and the strides in wider societal acceptance that enabled him to pursue a presidential run, as an example of America’s ability to change for the better.
“I believe in this country, because America, uniquely, holds the promise of a place where everyone can belong,” Buttigieg said. “We know that for too many and for too long, that promise has gone unrealized. But we also know America has been at its best whenever we make that circle of belonging wider.
“For me, it’s personal. Just over 10 years ago, I joined a military where firing me because of who I am wasn’t just possible — it was policy. Now in 2020, it is unlawful in America to fire anyone because of who they are or who they love,” he said, referring to a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision. “The very ring on my finger — a wedding we celebrated right where I’m standing — reflects how this country can change. Love makes my marriage real, but political courage made it possible — including that of Joe Biden, who stepped out ahead of even this party when he said that marriage equality should be the law of the land.
Buttigieg also praised Biden’s leadership, before throwing to a video of a pre-recorded conversation in which he and several other former presidential candidates — Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, businessman Andrew Yang, and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke — spoke about their personal interactions with Biden over the years, and urged viewers to support Biden’s bid for the presidency, citing both his personal characteristics and policies that he would pursue.
Another speaker who preceded Biden was Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who spoke of her personal struggles with the health care system as a child with a pre-existing condition who was hospitalized for three months and whose grandparents’ insurance did not cover the cost of her treatment.
“We all have stories like this. Stories about a time when the system was rigged against us, when we were counted out, left out, pushed out,” Baldwin said. “Just think of what we’ve heard these past four days. Health care professionals who don’t have the protective gear they need. Young people whose asthma will get worse, as our air quality does. Workers who are afraid of losing their jobs. Each story begs this simple, fundamental question, a question that gets to the heart of the choice in this election: What kind of country do we want to be?
“Do we want to be a country where millionaires get to dodge taxes or one where working families get a break? Do we want to be a country where medical bills bury people in debt? Or one where health care is affordable for all? Or where tens of thousands of people die from a virus? Or where the American dream lives?” continued Baldwin. “I think we know the answer to that fundamental question 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. And over the past months, we’ve added another to that list, a nation free from COVID.”
Baldwin also praised Biden for his work along with former President Barack Obama and Congress to pass the Affordable Care Act and extend insurance coverage to many more Americans, quoting the former vice president’s viral quip that the accomplishment was “a big eff-ing deal.”
As his fellow Democrats offered testimonials speaking to Biden’s kindness, his loyalty, his empathy for his fellow humans, and his strong work ethic, the night built up to a crescendo, setting the Democratic nominee up to critique President Trump’s competence, character, policy priorities, and inability to demonstrate leadership while also offering a glance at his own vision for the country’s future.
As he recited a litany of facts related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including the spread of the disease, soaring unemployment, a rise in the number of uninsured, and the closure of small businesses, Biden decried Trump’s signature tax cut as being insufficient to help working families. He also denounced the administration’s efforts to repeal or undermine the Affordable Care Act by asking the courts to overturn the law, which he noted would compromise the health care of more than 20 million people who have been able to receive insurance through the law, either through purchasing private insurance on the exchanges or through expanded Medicaid.
“What we know about this president is if he’s given four more years he will be what he’s been the last four years,” Biden said. “A president who takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators, and fans the flames of hate and division. He will wake up every day believing the job is all about him. Never about you. Is that the America you want for you, your family, your children?”
He then spoke of his own vision of a “generous and strong” and “selfless and humble” America, and offered himself up as the person who has a plan to tackle the country’s problems.
“Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to this nation. He failed to protect us. He failed to protect America. And, my fellow Americans, that is unforgivable,” Biden said. “As president, I will make you this promise: I will protect America. I will defend us from every attack. Seen. And unseen. Always. Without exception. Every time.”
Biden also praised his running mater, vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, calling her a “powerful voice” who is familiar with overcoming obstacles similar to those facing everyday Americans.
“I have always believed you can define America in one word: Possibilities,” Biden added. “That in America, everyone, and I mean everyone, should be given the opportunity to go as far as their dreams and God-given ability will take them. We can never lose that. In times as challenging as these, I believe there is only one way forward. As a united America. United in our pursuit of a more perfect union. United in our dreams of a better future for us and for our children. United in our determination to make the coming years bright.
“Are we ready? I believe we are,” he concluded. “This is a great nation. And we are a good and decent people. … And there has never been anything we’ve been unable to accomplish when we’ve done it together.”
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