WASHINGTON — Joe Biden accepted the Democratic presidential nomination on a night that distilled the mood of the convention: light on policy and heavy on feelings of unity, optimism and wresting the levers of power from President Donald Trump.
The purpose of the convention was to put ideological and other disagreements on the back burner and encourage voters to dispose of a president who was depicted throughout its final evening as a mortal threat to the character of the United States.
The focus was on empathy, compassion, justice and fairness — qualities that the politicians, celebrities, historians and former Republicans who spoke said were embodied in Biden.
Or, as the Republican pollster Patrick Ruffini put it: “Decency porn.”
Here are three takeaways:
1. Joe Biden hones his case against Trump
Thirty-three years after Biden launched his first campaign for president, he claimed the nomination. And it was nothing like he could have imagined. An empty Chase Center room in Wilmington, Delaware, with no crowd. A convention gone fully virtual in a country ravaged by a deadly pandemic.
He implored the nation to vote for him, to end “this chapter of American darkness” and choose “a path of hope and light” rather than one of anger and division.
“I give you my word: 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 of the darkness,” he said. “This is not a partisan moment. This must be an American moment.”
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“This is a life-changing election. This will determine what America is going to look like for a long, long time,” he said. And he closed by quoting the poet Seamus Heaney: “This is our moment to make ‘hope and history rhyme.’ With passion and purpose.”
Biden dedicated a big chunk of his speech to the coronavirus pandemic, emphasizing his case that Trump’s mishandling of the crisis has caused needless deaths. His remarks were heavier on diagnosing ailments than on selling a specific set of prescriptions.
Notably, Biden never said the words “Donald” or “Trump.” He referred to “this president,” “our current president,” “the current president” and “the current occupant of the office.” When he said the words “Mr. President,” he was referring to Barack Obama.
2. Aggressive pleas to vote, few policy notes
The message: Vote. Vote. VOTE! (Oh, and did we mention vote?) Peppered throughout the evening were pleas from speakers to request absentee ballots, vote early and send them in as soon as possible.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said the late John Lewis had reminded Americans that “if we fail to exercise our right to vote, we can lose it.”
The desperate pleas came as polls show that enthusiasm for Biden trails enthusiasm for Trump (although high enthusiasm against Trump is powering Biden to a lead). They also land as the integrity of the ballot box has come into question as Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump supporter and ex-fundraiser, has overseen service cutbacks blamed for slowing mail delivery.
And the expected surge of mail-in ballots, which take longer to count, means Election Day could look more like Election Week or Election Month. “Election results may take a little bit longer this year,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said.
Meanwhile, the speakers had little to say about policy beyond abstractions about pursuing fairness and justice. When Biden did discuss policy, it was largely to denounce Trump’s proposals, such as rolling back health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act and cutting the payroll tax that finances Social Security.
3. Moving tributes, feel-good moments, jokes
There was a moving tribute to Lewis, the civil rights icon and member of Congress, who died recently. There was a clip package honoring Biden’s son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015.
There was Brayden Harrington, 13, who spoke courageously about how Biden helped him overcome a stutter. There was a duet from John Legend and Common. There was NBA star Steph Curry, his wife, Ayesha, and their two young daughters engaging in upbeat family banter about the election.
And there were jokes from “Veep” and “Seinfeld” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who hosted the evening.
“If we all vote, there is nothing Facebook, Fox News or Vladimir Putin can do to stop us,” Louis-Dreyfus said. She added: “Just remember, Joe Biden goes to church so regularly that he doesn’t even need tear gas and a bunch of federalized troops to help him get there.
“When Donald Trump spoke at his inauguration about American carnage, I assumed that was something he was against,” she said. “Not a campaign promise.”