The former vice president said the United States has faced an unprecedented “perfect storm” of four simultaneous crises: the worst pandemic in 100 years, the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, the most compelling call for racial justice since the Civil Rights Era and the climate crisis.
“Our current President has failed in his most basic duty to the nation. He has failed to protect us, he has failed to protect America,” Biden said.
“This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment,” he said, looking directly into the camera and telling voters he was running to reclaim the country’s character at a time of darkness. “This campaign isn’t just about winning votes, it is about winning the heart and, yes, the soul of America.”
Though politicians often argue that each election is the most important, this year is different, he said: “We know in our bones, this one is more consequential.”
While many speakers throughout the night told stories about Biden’s life and his political career to highlight his empathy and decency — and make the affirmative case for electing him — Biden forcefully outlined how he would handle the job differently than Trump. He condemned the President for failing to devise a plan to get the coronavirus under control, while arguing that the incumbent wasted precious time focusing on his own grievances and political desires instead of trying to save lives.
“The President keeps telling us the virus is going to disappear. He keeps waiting for a miracle,” Biden said. “Well, I have news for him: no miracle is coming. We lead the world in confirmed cases. We lead the world in deaths. Our economy is in tatters, with Black, Latino, Asian American and Native American communities bearing the brunt of it.”
“And after all this time, the President still does not have a plan,” Biden continued. “Well, I do.”
The speech marked the high point of a decorated career in politics that has seen the Scranton, Pennsylvania, native rise to the highest levels of government despite a lifetime of family tragedy. Biden had run for president twice before, never going far in those runs and the third try seemed destined to end the same way until a turning point win in South Carolina in late February.
The former vice president then swept through the Super Tuesday states and clinched the nomination, culminating in a four-day virtual celebration that aimed to promote him as an empathetic leader who would be guided by science as the nation is gripped by the greatest crisis it has confronted in generations.
In a poignant moment, Biden’s three children introduced their father’s keynote speech in a video. The former vice president’s son Beau, who died of brain cancer five years ago at the age of 46, was portrayed in video clips from previous speeches about his father. Biden strongly pushed for such an introduction, which also featured his son Hunter and daughter Ashley.
The former vice president decided after much soul searching not to pursue a presidential campaign in 2016, saying the window for a run had closed while he was mourning Beau.
“Take it away, Beau,” Ashley Biden said, as the video cut to Beau Biden giving a speech about his father at a previous convention.
The final night of the convention featured average Americans whose lives have been touched by the former vice president, from military families to 13-year-old Brayden Harrington, who approached Biden in New Hampshire asking him to help coach him through overcoming his stutter, as Biden did in his own youth by reciting poetry in the mirror and later by marking his speeches as a reminder not to rush through his remarks.
“I’m just a regular kid, and in a short amount of time, Joe Biden made me feel more confident about something that’s bothered me my whole life,” Harrington said. “Joe Biden cared. Imagine what he could do for all of us. Kids like me are counting on you to elect someone we can all look up to. Someone who cares. Someone who will make our country and the world feel better. We’re counting on you to elect Joe Bide.”
The evening opened with a series of videos giving testimony to Biden’s humanity. One woman, Amanda Litman — executive director of Run For Something, a progressive organization — told how the former vice president consoled her family when a close relative was gravely ill with colon cancer.
She then used the experience to suggest how Biden could bring such empathy to bear in a nation in the grip of a pandemic that has already killed more than 170,000 people.
“Our entire country is grieving. We are all going through trauma. Our next President needs to be the one helping us heal,” she said.
The tributes to Biden from current and former members of the military included speeches from former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who ran against the former Delaware senator for the 2020 presidential nomination, and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient who Biden considered during his vice presidential selection process.
Duckworth spoke about the qualities needed in a commander in chief and the attention they must pay to the needs of military spouses, noting how her own husband rushed to the hospital to take care of her after she was injured when a rocket-propelled grenade tore through the helicopter she had been flying over Iraq in 2004.
“Military service doesn’t just take courage and sacrifice from those in uniform — they’re required from their families, too,” Duckworth said. “Joe Biden understands those sacrifices because he has made them himself. When his son Beau enlisted in the Army and deployed to Iraq, that burden was shouldered by his family as well.”
She said US service members deserve a leader who would “actually honor their sacrifices” and that they don’t have that in their current commander in chief, because Trump “is either unwilling or incapable of doing so.”
When Buttigieg, who was a lieutenant in the US Navy Reserves, endorsed Biden earlier this year, the former vice president took the microphone to invoke his late son, an Iraq War veteran who Biden refers to as his “soul.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but he reminds me of my son, Beau,” Biden said, with Buttigieg looking on. “I know that may not mean much to most people, but to me, it’s the highest compliment I can give any man or woman.”
On Thursday night, Buttigieg also spoke about his military service and his experience as a gay man in America watching how the country has shifted on LGBTQ rights.
“Joe Biden is right: this is a contest for the soul of the nation. And to me, that contest is not between good Americans and evil Americans. It’s the struggle to call out what is good in every American,” Buttigieg said.
“It’s up to us. Will America be a place where faith is about healing and not exclusion? Can we become a country that lives up to the truth that Black lives matter? Will we handle questions of science and medicine by turning to scientists and doctors? Will we see to it that no one who works full time can live in poverty?” he said.
“I trust Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to guide us toward that better future, because I have seen — up close — their empathy, and their capacity — just as I’ve seen America’s capacity to move toward inclusion.”
This story has been updated with additional developments on Thursday.