Democrats have to be very happy with what they were able to accomplish this week with their convention. Their production of the first all-virtual convention went off mostly without a hitch. At times, the last night seemed like whiplash with a serious segment on faith and forgiveness followed by snark from emcee Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for example.
But none of that will be remembered. What will be, and perhaps for a very long time, was the speech Joe Biden was able to deliver. Biden gave a lot of thunderous speeches on the floor of the U.S. Senate when he was a senator and he has appeared at conventions before, but no speech he has ever made was as important, and perhaps as well-delivered, as this one.
With that, here are seven takeaways from a consequential week:
1. Biden may have delivered the best speech of his career
This was more fireside chat than convention barn burner, and he has never been an arena orator like the man he worked for, Barack Obama. But, frankly, it worked for Biden. He delivered a sober and urgent speech directly to the American people with a clarity of message, one of light versus dark. Biden, a devout Irish Catholic, seemingly channeled years of homilies about good versus evil, right versus wrong. If he wins, it will be a speech for the ages.
“Here and now, I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst,” he said. “I will be an ally of the light, not the darkness.”
The Trump campaign might regret setting the bar so low to the point where as long as Biden got through the speech, he would dispel questions of his mental acuity. But he did far more than that. For the first time, perhaps even since he began this campaign, Biden showed why he should be president for reasons other than simply being not Trump.
2. Democrats offered a different choice
Even before Biden’s speech, Democrats were able to lay out a different choice, a different version of what the country could be. Look, Trump’s supporters are locked in. But Democrats took aim at that sliver of persuadable voters and tried to win them over. Democrats’ vision for America is one that celebrates diversity, adheres to norms and will change direction. Change is one of the most powerful motivators, and it particularly sticks when things aren’t going well in the country. Think Reagan following Carter, Clinton after Bush 41 and Obama after Bush 43. If Americans are looking for change again, Democrats presented it.
It’s now up to Trump and Republicans next week to try to sell steadiness to right the course. That’s something that can work for presidents seeking reelection, though it’s made tougher by Trump’s volatility.
3. A unified Democratic Party was on display
One advantage of a virtual convention is the boos aren’t magnified. Past conventions have featured at least some unrest within the base. That was certainly true in 2016 with Bernie Sanders supporters who did not go gently into that good night. And it was true of Sen. Ted Cruz supporters at the Republican National Convention the same year.
But it wasn’t just the lack of in-person delegates, it was the clear and present threat of Donald Trump for progressives. Bernie Sanders spoke strongly on Biden’s behalf; and single payer advocateAdy Barkan, who has ALS, praised Biden and promoted progress over purity.
Sure, there was some grumbling about who got time, who didn’t and who got more, but this is a far more unified Democratic Party coming out of this convention than the one taking on Trump the last time.
4. It WASN’T all about Trump
For as much as this election is all about Trump and as much as Biden’s supporters are mostly motivated by antipathy for Trump, the convention did buoy Biden personally and made an affirmative case for Biden’s vision for the country. It became pretty clear, if it wasn’t going in, that a message Democrats wanted to get across was: “The Bidens are decent people, people you can trust and who care about people like you.”
But as his speech showed, don’t mistake kindness for weakness. It’s almost as if one message was — he’ll fight for kindness.
5. Kamala Harris is the heir apparent
If you had any doubt that Harris was the right pick, she proved she’s ready for prime time. She delivered a solid speech and has hit all the right notes since being announced as Biden’s running mate.
Being a Black and South Asian woman, she highlights the diversity of the Democratic Party and of America. Her simply being on the ballot is a statement against Trump. But she has shown, throughout her career and highlighted this week, she is far more than that.
She’s sharp, can deliver a punch and has provided some needed energy to the Biden candidacy. At the end of the day, Biden won the Democratic primary, in part, because he was seen as the most likely to beat Trump. But it’s clear, given that he has said he would be a transitional president that he is a bridge and Harris is on the other side.
6. An economic message didn’t break through
Biden has led Trump in almost every issue area consistently and by a lot, except when it comes to the economy. Democrats didn’t seem to do anything to break through with an economic message, beyond saying that the pandemic had to be solved and other boilerplate Democratic points, like securing the social safety net and having the rich pay their “fair share.”
Biden was involved in one segment Thursday dealing with the economy, where he talked with workers. At one point, he said that he believed the auto industry could be revitalized back to its peak in the 1940s and 1950s. But no economist thinks that’s possible.
He also said he wants to invest $2 trillion in infrastructure, something every president says he wants to invest in but has been unable to get the parties to agree on how to pay for it.
It sounded as if Harris was on track to pivoting to a new emphasis on the economy when she was picked to be Biden’s running mate when she talked about Trump spoiling the economy he inherited from Obama. But that was not something much talked about during these four days.
7. It’s about voting, Voting, VOTING!
If there was one message Democrats hope people take away from this week it was that people need to go vote
While wearing a V-O-T-E necklace, former first lady Michelle Obama implored people get on their “comfortable shoes” and bring their dinners, maybe even breakfasts and wait for as long as it takes.
Her husband, former President Barack Obama, ended his speech with a similar urgency:
“We have to get busy building it up by pouring all our efforts into these 76 days and by voting like never before for Joe and Kamala and candidates up and down the ticket,” he said, “so that we leave no doubt about what this country that we love stands for today and for all our days to come.”
Democrats really feel if everyone votes, and if all their votes are counted, they win.
And now it’s on to the Republican convention starting Monday, where it will be interesting to see whether there are any new ways that Trump frames the argument for why he feels he deserves four more years.