Joe Biden was under a lot of pressure to deliver something impressive, something lasting, after his former boss turned to the nation at the Democratic Party Convention the previous evening as if he had never left the White House.
Obama’s shadow had grown a little longer and stepping out of it had become a little more difficult for Biden than it already is.
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Biden brings out the really big guns
From the start of his acceptance speech for the nomination as a presidential candidate, Joe Biden did not shy away from opening the really big guns. With his very first words, he put the election campaign against Donald Trump in a cosmic context.
It was not enough for Biden to speak of the threat to American democracy and the American economy, as Obama did the day before. For the devout Catholic Biden, the current election is a Manichean struggle between “light and dark,” as he put it.
The big, existential context continued over the next 20 minutes as Biden spoke into the cameras in front of the empty convention center in his hometown of Wilmington. According to Biden, four simultaneous crises will come together during this time: the pandemic, an economic crisis of unprecedented proportions, a crisis of racial injustice in America and the accelerating climate crisis.
Biden: “It’s about the soul of our nation”
In short – for America, yes, the world, it is about everything, a situation that harbors the greatest dangers but also the greatest opportunities. America has a choice between the path to light and the path to ruin, according to the rhetoric of the candidate and the party. As Biden said several times, “it is about the soul of our nation” – that is, about good versus evil.
Joe Biden’s self-positioning as anti-Trump was the fitting endpoint of the four-day Democratic Party Convention. Speaker after speaker had pointed out the dangers of four more years of Trump, as well as the need for all factions of the party to move together in this final battle for the future of the nation, perhaps humanity.
In terms of really concrete political proposals beyond the end of this “dark moment in American history”, the talk, like most of the previous ones, remained rather vague. Biden expressed the hope to be able to use this moment to overcome racism in the USA once and for all. How exactly this should happen remained open.
Under Biden, the US should earn back its leadership role
Biden promised to work again with the allies and friends of America and to earn back the traditional leadership role in international affairs. He promised to create many millions of jobs in ecological future technologies and to invest trillions in infrastructure. He promised universal health care and affordable education. But there were only empty phrases in this speech.
But party congresses may not be there either to formulate detailed and well thought-out political strategies and plans. They should inspire and fire.
The Democrats lack a positive vision
As a unifying idea for the democratic party and as a motivating factor, however, even after this speech there was no more than a single thought: You want to get rid of Trump. The New York writer and political essayist Joseph O’Neill put it this way: “The Democratic Party has a very strong negative branding.” A strong positive vision, something tangible, what it stands for instead of just against what, is missing.
If you take the personal brand Joe Biden, which was sharpened in video clips and in testimonials from family members on the last evening of the party conference, there are at least a few recognizable cornerstones. Joe Biden, it has been repeated over and over, is a caring man who has compassion.
Biden remembers every encounter, even if only with the train conductor. He remembers stories and names, he calls back, he doesn’t forget you. This empathy profile is strengthened by the personal hardships he has endured: the loss of his first wife and their daughter and the loss of his son Beau, who died of a brain tumor five years ago.
Biden gives the anti-Trump
This literal ability to pity is now to be carried over to the whole country. Biden is the one who understands how the ordinary American is doing who lost his job before or during Covid or a loved one because of Covid. And he has consolation: “They may have left this earth, but they will always be with you.”
In this regard, too, Biden gives the anti-Trump, the alternative to a man who puts his personal gain over the lives of others and the well-being of the nation. That could well be enough to defeat Trump in November. “There is nothing that unites people like an attack from Mars,” said Democratic political strategist Paul Begala to the New York Times. “And Trump is a galactic threat.”
Whether that will be enough to solve America’s problems and permanently bring the country back from the fanatics on the right is another question.