But Biden warned that the nation faces four crises—the coronavirus pandemic, an economic crash, a reckoning over race, and climate change—and that Trump is not up to the challenge.
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“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.”
Of course, all Democrats—as well as the many Republicans paraded at the convention—agree on this. The problem is that once you get past that list, you start to see strong disagreements on what the most pressing issues are and, more importantly, how to deal with them. Biden solved this dilemma by falling back on broadly popular ideas, such as raising the minimum wage, and platitudes about the need to “restore the promise of America to everyone.”
One thing that separates a failed politician from a successful one is the ability to sell banalities, and yesterday, Biden delivered. His speech won’t enter the canon of American political oratory, but it was a crisp and effective one, designed to showcase Biden’s empathy, decency, and humanity, all of which contrasts so sharply—like light and dark, as Biden said—with the president he hopes to replace. He spoke about grief, family, and hope in ways that Trump does not and cannot.
Many of the speakers at the DNC struggled with the uncanniness of delivering a speech without an audience. Even Obama, one of the great orators of the age, sounded stilted and hectoring. Biden actually seemed at ease—perhaps a skill honed during decades of giving speeches to a mostly empty Senate chamber.
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Biden may also benefit from low expectations. Trump and his campaign have portrayed the former vice president, who will turn 78 shortly after Election Day, as doddering and incoherent. (Even some of Biden’s own allies worry that he’s lost a step.) Biden seemed stiff during earlier appearances this week, but anyone who watched his acceptance speech saw a far more engaged and coherent speaker than Trump.
He was also far more coherent than the program that preceded him. The emcee was Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who cracked jokes. Many of them were excellent, but others felt ill-timed: After a moving clip of Biden discussing grief and faith, she cracked that he went to church so often that he didn’t need tear gas and militarized police to get there. The punch line was solid, but it sapped the power from the moment. A surprisingly fun group discussion by 2020 Democratic also-rans—with Senator Cory Booker nailing the cornball-host role, and Senator Bernie Sanders showcasing his underrated comedic sense—gave way to a dull and unnecessary speech by Michael Bloomberg. There was a history lecture from Jon Meacham (why?), a cameo by the Trump impersonator Sarah Cooper (why not?), and a powerful speech by Brayden Harrington, a young boy whom Biden bonded with over their shared stutter.