The second night of the Democratic National Convention set out to tell former Vice President Joe Biden’s story to America, trying to paint a sharp contrast between his character and experience with that of his opponent President Donald Trump.
Throughout the night, speakers made their case for why Biden is the best candidate to lead the country amid the coronavirus pandemic, economic crisis and racial unrest. The evening provided a clearer picture of some of Biden’s policy platforms, from lowering health care costs to working to fight climate change.
The night’s programming once again included guests from across the political spectrum, including Republican Colin Powell, who was secretary of state to President George Bush, and Cindy McCain, the wife of late GOP Sen. John McCain.
“The values I learned growing up in the South Bronx and serving in uniform were the same values that Joe Biden’s parents instilled in him in Scranton, Pennsylvania,” Powell said. “I support Joe Biden for the presidency of the United States because those values still define him, and we need to restore those values to the White House.”
The Trump administration, Tuesday’s speakers argued, has not only hurt the country, but does not have a plan to move the country forward. A speech by former second lady Jill Biden sought to humanize her husband, describing how he picked up the pieces of his life despite losing two children and his first wife.
“There are times when I couldn’t imagine how he did it — how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going,” Jill Biden said. “But I’ve always understood why he did it. … He does it for you.”
A virtual trip around the country
As the first-ever virtual convention kicked off on Monday, party insiders and observers alike were bemoaning the limitations of the new format, the lack of energy. But on Tuesday, necessity proved the mother of invention, as this convention’s roll call to officially nominate Biden highlighted the nation’s and party’s diversity in a way that the normally boisterous and time-consuming process has not.
Representatives from all 57 states and territories spoke to the specific issues facing their communities as well as Biden’s proposals to address them. But they also shared what makes them unique, and offered glimpses of the multitudinous terrains, cultures and needs of the nation.
Jacquelyn Brittany, a 31-year-old security guard, kicked off the roll call by officially nominating Biden for president. She spoke of her experience meeting him in an elevator when he was on his way to an interview.
“In the short time I spent with Joe Biden, I could tell he really saw me, that he actually cared, that my life meant something to him,” Brittany said. “And I knew, even when he went into his important meeting, he’d take my story in there with him.”
As the roll call went on, Geraldine Waller, who works at a meat packing plant in Nebraska, spoke of the difficulties essential workers face during the pandemic. “They call us essential workers, but we get treated like we are expendable,” she said. “Workers are dying from COVID, and a lot of us don’t have paid sick leave or even quality protective equipment.”
In Florida, Fred Guttenberg, who has become a gun control advocate since his daughter was killed in the Parkland high school shooting in 2018, asserted that Biden is the man to “take on” the National Rifle Association.
New Mexico state Rep. Derrick Lente spoke to the importance of protecting the culture and tribal sovereignty of indigenous communities. Michigan Sen. Gary Peters, alongside an auto union member, noted that Biden fought to save the auto industry and he has a plan to create a million auto jobs by investing in clean energy. Tennessee college student Keely Sage commemorated the state’s role as the deciding state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which gave some women the right to vote 100 years ago. And El Paso congresswoman Veronica Escobar remembered the lives of 23 people who were killed by a racist gunman in her city last year. “In the face of hate, we choose love,” she said.
Progressive health care activist calls Trump an ‘existential threat’
One of the more poignant segments of the night came from Ady Barkan, a leading Medicare for All advocate who was diagnosed with ALS in 2016. The video captured the toll Barkan’s disease has taken on him, showing clips of him playing with his son in 2018, his political journey fighting for health care access, and this year, with Barkan in a wheelchair, speaking through a computer program.
“Everyone living in American should get the health care they need,” Barkan said. “Even during this terrible crisis, Donald Trump and Republican politicians are trying to take away millions of people’s health insurance. With the existential threat of another four years of this president, we all have a profound obligation to act.”
Barkan signaled that by voting Biden into the White House, progressives would be able to work with him on health care legislation. Biden does not support Medicare for All, which would establish single-payer health care, but instead has campaigned on improving upon the Affordable Care Act.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez nominates Bernie Sanders
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez made an appearance on Tuesday to deliver a nominating speech for Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., ahead of the virtual roll call to count delegates. Per convention rules, every candidate that passes a certain threshold for earned delegates can receive a nomination speech. Her remarks sparked some confusion given the focus on Biden’s candidacy, but she clarified on Twitter (and stated in April) that she will be voting for Biden in November.
In the days leading up to the convention, reports that Ocasio-Cortez would only be given one minute to speak became a point of contention for progressives who wanted the popular congresswoman to play a larger role in the proceedings.
Her inclusion, as well as Sanders’ on night one and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s on night three, signals the Biden camp’s desire to appeal to progressives and remind them the Democratic Party is where they belong, and that Biden would at least be a better president, more receptive to their appeals, than Trump has been. But the limited time Ocasio-Cortez was given is demonstrative of a hesitance to give much of a platform to a congresswoman who has staked her short career on ousting moderate, establishment Democrats.
Despite the abbreviated remarks, which clocked in at roughly a minute and a half, Ocasio-Cortez’s statement struck a chord for many during a particularly challenging time for the country.
She spoke of a “mass people’s movement working to establish 21st-century social, economic and human rights, including guaranteed health care, higher education, living wages and labor rights for all people in the United States. A movement striving to recognize and repair the wounds of racial injustice, colonization, misogyny and homophobia. And to propose and build reimagined systems of immigration and foreign policy that turn away from the violence and xenophobia of our past. A movement that realizes the unsustainable brutality of an economy that rewards explosive inequalities of wealth for the few, at the expense of long-term stability for the many.”
Heavy hitters rally behind Biden
Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Secretaries of State John Kerry and Colin Powell, the daughter and grandson of former President John F. Kennedy, and the late Sen. John McCain’s wife, Cindy, all spoke on Tuesday night.
Clinton condemned Trump’s temperament and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in his remarks. “The Oval Office should be a command center; instead it’s a storm center; there’s only chaos,” he said. “Now you have to decide whether to renew [Trump’s] contract or hire someone else.”
Kerry criticized Trump’s foreign policy and leadership, his effect on the economy and national security failures. “Trump inherited a growing economy and a more peaceful world. And like everything else he inherited, he bankrupted it,” Kerry said. “America deserves a president who is looked up to, not laughed at.”
And continuing a theme from Monday night, prominent Republicans also spoke on Biden’s behalf. Powell, who endorsed Biden in June, said the country “needs a commander in chief who takes care of our troops in the same way he would his own family.” McCain spoke of the unlikely friendship between Biden and her late husband. She detailed their work together as senators and their willingness to work across the aisle on legislation. “It was a style of legislating and leadership that you don’t find much any more,” she said.
‘Rising stars’ of the party deliver a call for action
The DNC keynote address typically highlights one of the party’s rising stars. In 2004, it was then-Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama. In 2016, it was first-term Sen. Elizabeth Warren. But at a convention where nothing has been typical, the keynote address was instead delivered by a chorus of voices.
Stacey Abrams was perhaps the most recognizable in a line-up of 17 state officials, lawmakers and politicians from around the country who are mostly unknown on the national stage, and Tuesday’s keynote isn’t likely to change that.
They spoke to the distressing conditions facing voters during the pandemic and how Biden’s life experiences will enable him to lead the country out of its current crisis. They touched on his role authoring the 1994 Violence Against Women Act and his interest in restoring funding for Planned Parenthood and codifying Roe v. Wade. Biden also plans to strengthen and expand the Affordable Care Act as well as invest in clean energy, jobs and infrastructure, the speakers noted.
Jill Biden tells her husband’s story
Just as former first lady Michelle Obama’s speech on the first night of the DNC was hailed as the best of the night, Jill Biden’s stands above others on the second night. Throughout the evening, speakers sought to offer glimpses of Biden the man, not the politician — highlighting his personal story. His wife’s speech and the video that preceded it were the culmination of that theme.
In an eight-minute feature, the Bidens told their love story, which began when the still-grieving Joe, having recently lost his wife and daughter in a car accident, askedJill out on a date. She said yes and canceled another date that night. .
“She put us back together. She gave me back my life. She gave us back our family,” Joe Biden said of Jill.”
Jill Biden ended the two-hour program speaking from a Delaware high school. She described a country still grappling with a pandemic that has left many parents juggling work, caring for their child and fear of the coronavirus. But she offered a message of hope that her husband can lead the country through darker times.
“Joe’s purpose has always driven him forward. His strength of will is unstoppable and his faith is unshakable,” Biden said. “If we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours: bring us together and make us whole, carry us forward in our time of need.”