Yes, he was in the Senate for more than 35 years, and President Obama’s Vice President for 8. But we’re not sure he’s front-of-mind yet for many voters. And we think he knows that too.
On the day of the last day of the Democratic National Convention, we happened to be speaking with a friend. About something else entirely. Liberal leaning, college educated. Yet they had no impression of the Democratic candidate beyond “I don’t like his vibe”. We asked on what they were basing that. Answer: “To be honest, I don’t know anything about him.” And we suspect this person we happened to be speaking with is not the only one who hasn’t really given Biden more than passing thought or attention if any at all. Much less getting excited about voting for him.
On the other hand, everybody knows Trump. And that gives him a huge head start. And we’re not talking about the typical advantages of being an incumbent. Just that Trump’s very good at seeding the message that he’s President and that’s that. Almost an immutable fact, regardless of how you may regard him.
Did one speech change that at all? We don’t know. But it did convince us that Biden’s well aware of all that, and is proceeding on a very deliberate track to raise his profile among non-political junkies, and lift up their energy level too, by trying to get it to match his own passion. But actually doing that may be a tall order.
So while his powerful, very personal, and yes passionate acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention was certainly intended to get people fired-up about voting for him, we might not be quite there yet. It was, maybe, more about getting people to know him. Offering up his basic decency, and some very solid ideas, as an alternative to bedlam. That can just kind of grow on voters until choosing him seems like a really good idea, not an imperative imposed upon them. (When we volunteered for Hillary Clinton’s campaign last time around, in Pennsylvania, the #1 reason people gave us for not voting for Hillary was that they felt they were being “forced” to vote for her.)
“We can overcome this season of darkness.”
Biden’s campaign thus far has been defined by its discipline. And cool, clear messaging. Our favorite campaign poster is the sunglasses.
Our favorite roll call state was Rhode Island’s “calamari comeback”. Which has been written about so much by now I don’t really feel the need to add to it except to say the reason it worked so well is there was a serious side to it too: we know what’s good, we know this is good, and we don’t even really have to explain it for you to know it too.
Biden hasn’t bitten at Trump’s attempts to paint him as a doddering old man who can’t put two words together. Because Trump will keep that up anyway, no matter how many times Biden proves him wrong, and no matter how much of a dotard he is himself. Because Trump never backs down from a line of attack.
So in some ways Biden’s task was simple. In others, very, very hard. We’d like to think he pulled it off. Magnificently. From the pre-speech story he told about his mother standing up for him, which actually involved her physically threatening a nun who’d made fun of her son’s stutter. What got us though, is recalling the lessons he learned from his father. Even thought we know damn well this is a device Biden often uses in speeches; has for years:
“[My dad] used to say: ‘Joey, I don’t expect the government to solve my problems but I sure in hell expect them to understand them.’”
Which reminded us of something our dad used to say. Which is that what makes America different, and Americans extraordinary, is our constitution (both literally, and the Constitution), and our common sense. So while others were being wrestled into grand social and economic experiments, often with horrifying human tolls, and even though we, as a nation, were occasionally lured in unsavory directions, the American people would always ultimately come together to do the right thing.
Let’s hope so.