Joe Is Very Much Awake

Purpose, he said, is what gets you through the grief.

Joe Biden Acceptance Speech, August 20, 2020.

Democratic National Convention, Fourth Night.

After thirty-two years of trying Joe Biden accepted at last his party’s nomination for president. He did so with insistent optimism. 

His tone was evident right out of the gate, when he quoted Ella Baker, a Black, female civil rights era activist (and here a proxy for Kamala Harris): “Give people light and they will find a way.” 

Biden spoke of hope, light, and love in a strong voice meant to remind his audience of the primacy of those forces in lives lived morally. He did it as well to boost their confidence at a low moment in American life, whose four crises he would describe in the likely sequence he would deal with them should he become president. He did not leave the FDR analogy tacit, nor did he dwell on it. 

Are we ready? I believe we are. We must be.

He bid voters to judge the current White House occupant (my phrase) on the facts. He cited US statistics on crises one and two, the pandemic and the economy. Biden swerved from citing Republican threats to terminate the Affordable Care Act to thank Obama, and then returned to going after Trump and presenting highlights from his plan. Smooth let along sparkling transitions have never been an asset of Biden’s oratory and that did not change tonight.

The Biden of the 2019 and 2020 Democratic debates, constrained by the competitive setting and severe time limits, hastily ticked off wonky talking points when prompted to talk about issues. This Biden put things more plainly:

We’ll develop and deploy rapid tests with results available immediately. We’ll make the medical supplies and protective equipment our country needs. And we’ll make them here in America. So we will never again be at the mercy of China and other foreign countries in order to protect our own people. We’ll make sure our schools have the resources they need to be open, safe, and effective. We’ll put the politics aside and take the muzzle off our experts so the public gets the information they need and deserve. 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.

Biden told those who have lost loved ones to the virus that he understands how they feel. Purpose, he said, is what gets you through the grief. 

Blocks on joblessness and racism followed in similar style. Biden bragged on his running mate who, like him, draws strength from family life. He teared up talking about his fallen son Beau, and segued into his commander in chief module, in which he vowed to end “cozying up to dictators.” 

In closing Biden emphasized American possibilities. As is his wont he quoted an Irish poet. Tonight it was Seamus Heaney, from “Doubletake,” 

History says, 

Don’t hope on this side of the grave

But then, once in a lifetime

The longed for tidal wave

of justice can rise up

and hope and history rhyme.

A final point: in an earlier segment during the show thirteen-year-old Braydon Harrington forever recontextualized Biden’s occasional verbal stumbles. The young man spoke haltingly but unstoppably about his problems with stuttering. Photos documented how Biden has helped him. Instead of indicating a weakness, Biden’s stutter is now a sign of decency and will power.

As a result of this speech, it will be harder for Trump to call Biden Sleepy Joe with effectiveness.

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