Joe Biden is a normal human who knows what he’s doing. This was the core message of the final night of the Democratic National Convention. And it was an effective one; the Democratic nominee has now set a standard that his rival can’t possibly meet.
Some may quibble with this summary, insisting that the evening’s primary message was about realizing the better angels of America’s nature, or choosing love over hate, light over darkness, workers over owners, or a sustainable future over a nostalgically misremembered past. And certainly, Biden and his surrogates hit all of those notes. But the dominant one remained, “Unlike other major-party presidential candidates, Joe Biden is not an incompetent sociopath.”
In reintroducing Biden to America, Democrats put great emphasis on how much their nominee likes spending time with his children and grandchildren. And the testimonials in support of this premise all rang true. No fair observer would walk away doubting that Joe Biden does, in fact, enjoy the company of the people he is related to, nor that he was willing to make some personal sacrifices for the benefit of his children. In a typical presidential race, spotlighting such humanizing banalities would not serve as a tacit indictment of the opposing party’s standard-bearer. But 2020 is an atypical year.
His distinctive normality established, Biden used his acceptance speech to hammer home his basic competence. The Democratic nominee explained that, if elected president, he would not “muzzle” experts in the middle of a pandemic for crass political purposes or try to throw millions of people off of their health insurance or praise neo-Nazis — thereby raising the bar for fitness for office to a point his rival can’t possibly clear.
All right. Your sleep-deprived pundit’s strained attempts at humor notwithstanding, the story of Biden’s familial life is defined as much by tragic abnormalities as by relatable banalities. And his speech accomplished more than a mere establishment of his relative lack of sociopathy.
Biden’s address was no remarkable piece of oratory. Few of its lines will linger long in popular memory. But the text did everything it had to do. It laid out the rudiments of a comprehensive plan for tackling the COVID-19 crisis; indicted Trump on grounds of incompetence, bigotry, and class allegiance; articulated a vision for economic revival and green modernization; and aligned the old white moderate candidate with resurgent youth-led movements for racial justice — and throughout heaped on spoonfuls of patriotic pablum to help the liberalism go down smoother with the white-skinned, gray-haired marginal voters of Florida and Wisconsin. It may not have been the performance of a virtuoso, but it did register as that of a veteran politician with hard-won, well-honed craft.
Trump rapidly pole-vaulted to the Republican nomination on the strength of his extraordinary wealth and gifts for manipulation. Biden secured his party’s top prize on his third try — after a half-century in federal politics — through sheer resilience. In this respect, Biden’s workaday adequacy makes him a better foil for the president than a politician of less common gifts would have been.