The Democratic Party has come a long way. The final night of the party’s 2020 convention included a clip of presidential nominee Joe Biden speaking about faith and the death of his son Beau with Rev. Anthony Thompson, the pastor of the Charleston church where nine people (including Thompson’s wife) were killed by a White nationalist. On either side of that clip were two tributes, one to Biden’s faith from his friend Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and the other to the late John Lewis, with a heartfelt introduction from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms and music from Common and John Legend. The nation’s best eulogist, Jon Meacham, tied it together in a plea to save America’s soul, to choose our better selves. It was a sort of civic sermon for Americans exhausted by President Trump and the energy it takes to be appropriately enraged by him. This is a now party that embraces faith and people of faith, a far cry from previous years in which Democrats too often avoided anything that smacked of religion.

Faith-based appeals — invoked by presidents of both parties in moments of crisis and loss — that speak to fairness, kindness, empathy and generosity can inspire and comfort. It is a language utterly foreign to Trump and the scam artists, kooks and bigots who dominate today’s GOP. This set the tone for the evening, despite one-liners from Julia Louis-Dreyfus that were hit and miss. (Trump lip-syncer Sarah Cooper, however, hit a home run. She began with a bit mouthing his crazy-talk on absentee voting but then in her own voice moved into an important message on voting and the security of voting from home.)

Veteran, NRA member and longtime Republican Ed Good’s short explanation of why he’s backing Biden was quite a moment, outshining some overwrought addresses from Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). “I think Trump has been the worst president we’ve ever had, so I’ll be glad to see him go,” Booker said. Also compelling was a segment on the sacrifices of military families, highlighted by Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who lost both legs and use of one arm during service in Iraq. Duckworth scolded Trump as “the coward in chief” and heralded Biden as someone who won’t be a “puppet” and will defend our troops. She said derisively, “Donald Trump doesn’t deserve to call himself commander in chief for another four minutes — let alone another four years.”

After a heart-wrenching tribute, former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg saluted not only Beau Biden, but the elder Biden’s role in advancing LGBTQ rights. Speaking of his and Beau’s deployments, Buttigieg explained one serves his country “not because it’s a country you live in, but because it’s a country you believe in.” It was unusual to see so many former opponents reminiscing (virtually) about the campaign and their Biden experiences. They were relaxed, funny and insightful — politicians for once acting naturally and without artifice. Mike Bloomberg (remember him?) got his own speech, zinging Trump for incompetence. He laughed at the suggestion that Trump’s economy was great before the pandemic. “I’m not asking you to vote against Trump because he’s a bad guy. I’m urging you to vote against him because he’s done a bad job,” he argued.

But the highlight of the lead-up to Biden’s acceptance speech was Brayden Harrington, a young man with a stutter who spoke about how Biden helped him. “I’m just a regular kid, and in a short amount of time, Joe Biden made me more confident about something that’s bothered me my whole life,” he said. “Joe Biden cared. Imagine what he could do for all of us.” The courage and persistence it took for him to get through his remarks reminds us, as they say, that not all heroes wear capes. He told the audience, “Kids like me are counting on you to elect someone we can all look up to.” Who are we to say no?

Meanwhile, the Biden granddaughters (who apparently demanded he run) and Steph Curry’s family cornered the market on cuteness. His children Hunter and Ashley paid tribute to their dad, but giving Beau — via the use of a 2012 clip from his appearance at the Democratic convention — the honor of handing it off to a biographical film was magical, and heart-tugging. The lovely biographical film, like all the video presentations, was engaging, emotionally stirring and entertaining.

All of this was prelude to the speech of Biden’s life. The speech was notable for how little he said about Trump. He never mentioned Trump by name and spoke of the “division” and “anger” only briefly at the onset. He later castigated the president (again without saying his name) for his selfishness. “What we know about this president is if he’s given four more years he will be what he’s been the last four years … He will wake up every day believing the job is about him, not about you.” Trump waits for a “miracle,” but “I have news for him: No miracle is coming.”

He reminded voters that Trump still does not have a plan for covid-19 or the damage it’s wrought to the economy, but Biden does. “If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us, not the worst. I will be an ally of the light, not the darkness,” he declared. “It’s time for us, for We The People to come together … While I will be a Democratic candidate, I will be an American president.” He ticked off our great challenges, but the election is about something far bigger and of particular consequence: “Character is on the ballot. ... Who we are as a nation. What we stand for. And, most importantly, who we want to be.”

Biden said simply that Trump failed in his most basic duty to protect us. Biden vowed to protect us always, he comforted those who lost a loved one. He was optimistic and forward looking — promising new technology, more jobs, child care and a fair immigration that “reflects our values.” He promised to preserve Social Security — and needled Trump for cutting the payroll tax that pays for it. “I will protect Social Security and Medicare. You have my word on it.”

Biden spoke with love for his wife and for his family — including Beau. “He inspires me every day,” he said. Turning to foreign policy, Biden declared, with some righteous anger, “The days of cozying up to dictators is over. Under President Biden, America will not turn a blind eye to Russian bounties on the heads of American soldiers. Nor will I put up with foreign interference in our most sacred democratic exercise: voting.” He excoriated Trump for the “very fine people on both sides” comment after Charlottesville, reiterating that this is a battle for the soul of the nation. Quoting George Floyd’s daughter and noting the passing of John Lewis, he said we could make great progress. “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.”

The text of the speech was well-shaped, but the delivery lifted it above an ordinary address. Perhaps without an audience Biden could speak more conversationally, look us in the eye and bring a greater sense of intimacy. Not known as a great orator, he gave the speech of his life, demolishing the notion that he’s lost a step (another example of ridiculous projection from Trump). The intensity and sincerity in Biden’s voice, the determination with which he spoke was what we have been missing. It was the voice of a president.

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