Written by Aaron Blake
Democrats wrapped up their 2020 national convention on Thursday, with Joe Biden officially accepting the party’s nomination.
Below, some takeaways.
1. Biden’s concerted coronavirus pitch
If there was any doubt about what the chief strategy moving forward would be for the Biden campaign, Biden’s acceptance speech probably erased it.
After beginning with some more high-minded, even Obama-esque comments about what our country is, Biden turned to the coronavirus.
“Our current president has failed in his most basic duty to the nation: He’s failed to protect us,” Biden said. “He’s failed to protect America. And my fellow Americans, that is unforgivable.”
Biden added: “This president, if he’s reelected, you know what will happen. Cases and deaths will remain far too high. More mom and pop businesses will close their doors — and this time for good. Working families will struggle to get by.”
Biden also compared the U.S. coronavirus response to other nations’.
“Just look around: It’s not this bad in Canada or Europe or Japan or almost anywhere else in the world,” Biden said. “And the president keeps telling us, ‘The virus is going to disappear.’ He keeps waiting for a miracle. Well, I have news for him: No miracle is coming.”
It’s a Democratic argument that has been a long time coming — and perhaps has been saved for late in the campaign. The United States is faring worse than virtually any other first-world country, despite Trump’s claims.
Biden also offered plans, albeit general ones. He called for more testing and medical supplies, but not to rely on foreign countries like China for them. He called for a mask mandate and to “take the muzzle off our experts, so the public gets the information they need and deserve — honest, unvarnished truth. They can handle it.”
Biden also sought to reassure people frustrated with continued coronavirus restrictions and those who have experienced loss.
“As president, the first step I will take: We will get control of the virus that has ruined so many lives,” Biden said. “Because I understand something this president hasn’t from the beginning. We will never get our economy back on track, we will never get our kids safely back in schools, we’ll never have our lives back until we deal with this virus.”
It aimed to be real talk about the tough work that lies ahead, which may not be terribly attractive to people who just want to be done with the pandemic — particularly the “no miracle” remark. But the gamble seemed to be that’s what people want at this point, and that it’s a contrast worth drawing with a president who often fails to grasp the true nature of the situation.
2. The stutter emphasis
One of the most popular lines of attack on Biden among some on Fox News and the in the conservative community is that his frequent verbal stumbles reflect some kind of mental decline.
The Democratic convention went after that head-on in the crucial final hour on Thursday night, playing video of a 13-year-old, Brayden Harrington, who has struggled with a stutter like Biden did in his youth.
Harrington in the video at times stuttered while recalling Biden’s counsel in helping him deal with his own speech problems.
“Without Joe Biden, I wouldn’t be talking to you today,” Harrington said, adding: “It was really amazing to hear that someone like me became vice president. He told me about a book of poems by Yeats he would read aloud to practice. He showed me how he marks up his addresses to make them easier to say out loud. So I did the same thing today.
“I’m just a regular kid, and in a short amount of time Joe Biden made me more confident about something that’s bothered me my whole life. Joe Biden cared. Imagine what he could do for all of us.”
Biden’s childhood stutter also featured prominently in the bio video that played before his acceptance speech. It was touching and a courageous decision by Harrington.
It also invited Biden’s conservative opponents to confront an uneasy choice: Continue going after his verbal slip-ups and perhaps go too far — which some including Sarah Sanders and Lara Trump clearly have — or scale back one of their chief lines of attack.
3. An emphasis on faith
Something that worked early in the night was the convention’s focus on Biden’s faith.
Most notable was a video played of Biden’s interaction with a reverend who asked him about his faith. Biden talked about the death of his son, Beau Biden, happening shortly before nine Black churchgoers were killed by a white supremacist in Charleston, S.C.
“All those who died were killed by this white supremacist,” Biden said, before referencing the families of those lost. “They forgave him. They forgave him. The ultimate act of Christian charity. They forgave him.”
The convention merely ran the exchange, overlaid with emotional music, but the video played up Biden’s knowledge of faith and different denominations, and his humanity — a scene which is likely to be contrasted with Trump’s often-rocky handling of religious issues and weird allusions to (and use of) the Bible.
“His faith is strong, and it’s personal and private,” Coons said. “For Joe, faith isn’t a prop or a political tool. I’ve known Joe about 30 years, and I’ve seen his faith in action. Joe knows the power of prayer, and I’ve seen him in moments of joy and triumph, of loss and despair, turn to God for strength. Joe’s comforted me in my toughest moments, as he has so many others. I’ll never forget how Joe took the time to offer me words of comfort as my father lay in hospice.”
“Joe’s a man of faith and conscience. He’ll be a president for Americans of all faiths, as well as people of conscience who practice no particular faith,” he added.
It’ll be interesting to see how much this is used as an implied contrast with Trump over the next 2½ months.
4. The jokes
More than a few heads turned when we found out the host on Thursday night would be Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Fellow actors hosted the prior three nights, but Dreyfus comes from more of a comedy background than any of them.
And the jokes began immediately.
The first actually came from 2020 Democratic primary candidate Andrew Yang, who joked while introducing Louis-Dreyfus that they had “11 Emmys” between them. “How’s that for math?” (It was a little rushed, but not bad.)
The two did a bit about the pronunciation of Mike Pence’s name — apparently a reference to Trump and Republicans mispronouncing “Kamala” — and it became very clear that the jokes would fly.
Later, Louis-Dreyfus encouraged people to text the word “vote” to 30330, which she said “would be the president’s golf score if he didn’t cheat.”
Perhaps the harshest line of the night was this, when Louis-Dreyfus referenced the scenes in Lafayette Square this summer: “Just remember, Joe Biden goes to church so regularly that he doesn’t even need tear gas and a bunch of federalized troops to help him get there.”
Some ate it up. But the joke was sandwiched immediately between the video of Biden and the reverend and a discussion of John Lewis’s legacy. Others felt it was a poor transition and a distraction, at best.
Stand-up comedy is hard. It’s even harder without an audience. It was certainly an interesting choice.