Milwaukee: Joe Biden has repaid the faith Democratic voters placed in him by delivering the most impressive speech of his career – just when he needed it most.
Expectations were low for Biden's acceptance speech on the final night of the Democratic National Convention. During the Democratic primaries the 77-year old was often flat on the stump and his younger, more articulate rivals usually outshone on the debate stage. The Trump campaign is currently running ads suggesting Biden is in cognitive decline and can barely string a sentence together.
The risk of this tactic was always that Republicans were setting a dangerously low bar for Biden to jump over – and that's exactly what happened on Thursday night (Friday AEST). Biden delivered a rousing address that played to his strengths as an empathetic and optimistic unifier rather than a divider.
His 20-minute speech was more presidential than partisan. Biden aimed to appeal to the broadest possible audience, creating space for independents and disaffected conservatives to join the Democratic Party coalition. He invited people in, rather than pushing them away.
"While I’ll be a Democratic candidate I’ll be an American president," he said. "I’ll work as hard for those who didn’t support me – as hard for them as I do for those who did support me."
Biden mentioned his policy priorities – tackling climate change, ending tax breaks for the rich – but he is not campaigning as a wonk. Instead he spoke in stark moral terms: of light and darkness, right and wrong. At times the speech had the feel of a Sunday sermon, as he called on Americans to re-connect with their best selves.
"Is that the America you want for you, your family, your children?" he asked. "I see a different America: one that is generous and strong, selfless and humble. It’s an America we can rebuild together."
Importantly, he said that tackling the coronavirus would be his top priority if elected. The pandemic is dominating American life, and has resulted in 170,000 deaths. Most Americans think Trump has done a poor job of handling this once-in-a-generation crisis.
"The President keeps telling us the virus is going to disappear," Biden said. "He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well, I have news for him, no miracle is coming."
Biden went after Trump forcefully, but also projected a sense of optimism. He skilfully used his own life story – recovering from the tragic death of his wife and young daughter in a car accident, then the loss of his son Beau to cancer – to argue that better days are possible for America.
The speech was not just well-written, but well-delivered. Biden appeared passionate and energetic: there was nothing "sleepy" about him.
He didn't stumble over his words. The absence of a live audience worked in his favour, making the speech feel more intimate and personal.
Biden has been waiting for this moment for decades: he first ran for president in 1988 and again in 2008. It looked like he was about to flame out again this year when he finished in fourth place in the Iowa caucuses then fifth in the New Hampshire primaries.
But black voters, who saw him as their best chance of defeating Trump, resurrected his campaign and white moderates quickly rallied behind him.
Thanks to Biden's speech, Democrats emerge from their unique four-day virtual convention not just relieved but delighted. Their man did what he had to do.
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