Analysis: Biden Surpasses Expectations in Acceptance Speech, But Debates Loom Large

Posted: Aug 21, 2020 10:05 AM

On the final night of the Democratic convention, the highlight was -- paradoxically unexpectedly -- the nominee himself.  After Joe Biden's running mate was overshadowed by President Obama on Wednesday night, observers wondered whether the the four-day program would end with a boring, quasi-mangled thud.  It didn't.  Thursday night's proceedings were pretty bad overall, though the evening did feature a few bright spots, like testimonials from an old war veteran and a young boy Biden has helped overcome a stutter.  On the other side of the ledger, it takes real effort to make Julia Louis Dreyfus that tone deaf and unfunny, but DNC writers managed to carry it off.  

But the only performance that would really matter was the nominee's acceptance speech.  The biographical introductory video was well done, leaning hard into the convention's running theme of Joe Biden's decency and character.  As it concluded, the lights came up on the man of the hour and he turned in one of his strongest performances in recent memory.  In fairness, this was a low bar to clear.  The campaign has shielded him from tough questions for long stretches of time, and some of the candidate's public comments have been painfully muddled or problematic.  But nobody fed the low expectations more than the Trump campaign, which has relentlessly portrayed Biden as a drooling, barely cogent shell of senility.  They've run ads about it, and played up the theme on social media.  

Against that backdrop, Biden conspicuously over-delivered with a forceful and energetic speech, barely scathed by a small handful of minor stumbles.  His remarks weren't spectacular, but they were solid.  Most of the speech was fairly standard issue Democratic fare, yet it felt oddly reassuring compared to our disorienting, hyper-woke moment.  Biden praised the country as fundamentally good.  He issued a callback to Barack Obama's 2004 theme of a unified America, not polarized into angry red and blue silos.  And perhaps the most memorable passage was Biden's resonant, heartfelt message of condolence and hope for the many Americans who have lost loved ones to the pandemic.  The former Vice President is often at his very best as a consoler, and he bears the personal scars that make him authentic in that role.  He finished with a rousing call to action:

"With passion and purpose, let us begin -- you and I together -- one nation, under God.  United in our love for America.  United in our love for each other.  For love is more powerful than hate, hope is more powerful than fear, and light is more powerful than dark. This is our moment, this is our mission...Thank you, and may God bless you, and my God protect our troops."  

Sen. Harris could have used a cheering crowd to breathe some life into her dull, flat address on Wednesday. Biden's comments, like Obama's, worked better as a direct-to-camera appeal. On the merits, it was a solid B. Compared to expectations, including a risky Trump campaign gambit that backfired, it became an A. But even as a lot of Democrats breathed an enormous sigh of relief just after 11pm ET last night, they must know that the bigger lingering question is how Biden will fare off script, facing live rhetorical fire, and under frequent provocation and his temper flares.  I'll leave you with this fact check that will repeatedly apply to the Biden/Harris ticket (including factually false and misleading assertions Biden made last night), a glaring omission over four nights of Democratic programming, and Biden's full speech:

In truth, 'China' was mentioned a few times, but very fleetingly.  The only prominent example came in one of several repugnant lines in Andrew Cuomo's disgraceful speech