In Depth

Four things we learned from Joe Biden’s Democratic convention speech

Democratic candidate launches attack on Trump in widely praised address

Joe Biden rounded off the four-day Democratic National Convention on Thursday night with an all-encompassing speech in which he pledged to end a “chapter of darkness” in the US.

The former vice president addressed viewers via video link in a 25-minute speech condemning Donald Trump’s record in the White House. Without ever mentioning the president by name, Biden said he “takes no responsibility, refuses to lead, blames others, cozies up to dictators and fans the flames of hate and division”.

Biden has overseen “six straight months of national polls in which Donald Trump has never had a lead”, Politico says, and the widely positive response to his speech looks set to boost that momentum. But what did we learn from Biden’s speech?

Biden plans to use the pandemic as a focal point

The Democratic candidate devoted much of his speech to lashing out at Trump for his handling of the economy, race relations and the unrest across the US in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

But Biden’s strongest words were reserved for Trump’s tackling of the coronavirus pandemic, which Democrats think “will be top of mind for voters come 3 November and which polls suggest the president scores badly on”, The Telegraph says.

The US has recorded the highest number of infections and deaths from coronavirus in the world by far, with more than 170,000 reported deaths - 65,000 more than Brazil in second place.

“Just judge this president on the facts,” Biden said. “Five million Americans infected with Covid-19. More than 170,000 Americans have died. By far the worst performance of any nation on Earth. Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to the nation: he has failed to protect us.”

A moment of humanity

Biden also spoke to “those who had lost loved ones during the pandemic” by offering his own story of grief, The Guardian reports. 

In 1972, shortly after he was sworn in as a senator for Delaware, his wife Neilia Hunter and his one-year-old daughter Naomi were killed in a car accident while Christmas shopping. And in 2015, his son Beau Biden, an Iraq War veteran and former Attorney General of Delaware, died after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

“I know that deep black hole that opens up in your chest,” Biden told viewers. “I know how mean and cruel and unfair life can be sometimes. I found the best way through pain and loss and grief is to find purpose.”

Writing in the Independent, US author Michael Arceneaux says Biden’s “ability to eloquently speak to grief proved useful” in the current climate, adding: “I don’t expect the president to be America’s grief counselor, but there is something to be said about reading the room and the mood of a nation.”

He revealed his reason for running

Biden also used the speech to reveal the exact moment he knew he would run for president.

Having served as vice president for eight years under Barack Obama, the death of his son Beau toward the end of his time in office saw him take a step back from politics and choosing not to run for president in 2016.

However, Biden said that Trump’s comments in the wake of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, persuaded him to run against the president.

In the aftermath of the rally, in which a counter-protester was killed when in a vehicle ramming attack - Trump infamously stated that there had been “very fine people on both sides”.

Biden recalled these words during his speech, describing them as a “wake-up call for us as a country... and for me, a call to action”.

“At that moment, I knew I’d have to run,” he said. “My father taught us that silence was complicity. And I could not remain silent or complicit. At the time, I said we were in a battle for the soul of this nation. And we are.”

Even Fox News liked it

Biden’s speech was so well received that it even got a begrudging seal of approval from anchors at Fox News, a channel which Vox notes “normally does everything it can to help Trump”.

Chris Wallace, an anchor on the network, called the speech “enormously effective”, adding that Biden’s clear and concise delivery could spell trouble for the president’s most common attack line.

“Remember, Donald Trump has been talking for months about Joe Biden as mentally shot,” Wallace said. “I thought that he blew a hole, a big hole in the characterisation.

“It seems to me that after tonight Donald Trump is going to have to run against a candidate, not a caricature. The Democrats have had a good convention, now it’s the Republicans’ turn.”

Laura Ingraham, one of Fox’s most conservative anchors, said Biden “beat expectations” with the speech, The Guardian adds. Ingraham said that despite it being “devoid of any policy other than universal masking” he still “delivered a good speech for what he was doing, it was very emotional stuff… It was very well delivered”.

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