Thursday Late: Portraying oneself as the light battling against dark forces should usually be left to science-fiction characters. Yet Joe Biden cast himself that way on his biggest stage, and did so earnestly and almost humbly.

It helps, surely, to be in a campaign against someone seen by half the country as Darth Vader incarnate.

Never known as a great orator, lambasted for months as a senile old buffoon, and placed in a quarantined darkroom for the first televised convention-closing speech in a vacuum, the expectations could hardly have been lower for Biden Thursday night.

He met and surpassed that low bar. And he did so by meeting the mood of the country. Yes, things are rough, he said, it’s OK to feel that way. But this is America; it doesn’t have to be this way. We can be miserable and frustrated, but also optimistic and purposeful.

We can defeat the pandemic, he said; we can overcome the recession. Heck, we can end systemic racism. “Will we be the generation that finally wipes the stain of racism from our national character? I believe we’re up to it,” Biden said. “I believe we’re ready.”

When Barack Obama offered optimism, in the midst of utter economic collapse, loss of domestic security, and military quagmire, Americans believed in it because he seemed to represent a new, fresh, energetic opportunity.

America might believe in Biden’s optimism, but because he represents the scarred soul who has seen dark replaced by light before.

With this speech, and this convention, Biden has defined the campaign on his terms. Those terms are non-ideological; they are about decency and purpose. Those are not battlefields that can be won on with Trump’s usual arsenal of insult and bluster.

Trump will presumably attempt to reposition the contest on his own terms next week. But in doing so, he might merely prove Biden right—and remind people of his warning about turning to the dark side.

Thursday: Evening

Political conventions often work best when they appeal to emotion, not ideology. The Democratic National Convention this week has strained to avoid policy details, preferring to hover at the be-nice, help-others level of abstraction. Given the circumstances, that’s worked well.

The fourth and final night clearly seeks to extend that approach to the nominee himself—and, by contrast, the sitting President.

So, here was Sister Simone Campbell’s opening prayer; directly followed by Delaware Senator Chris Coons speaking of Biden’s faith and self-image as a “servant leader”; and then a clip of Biden discussing his faith at a town hall.

And there was Atlanta’s mayor speaking of how we can emulate John Lewis; followed by a video about Lewis; and then John Legend with Common performing their Academy Award winning song from the movie Selma.

None of this might have imparted anything solid and tangible about Biden and how he would guide the country. Nor did the stories about how often he calls his granddaughters, or how he helped a young stutterer, or how he came to pay respects to a supporter who had contributed $18—representing life in Jewish numerology—to his early campaign.

They were painting a picture of decency, and empathy, and perhaps even normalcy.

And perhaps most poignantly, the convention is conveying the image of Biden as someone who has suffered and grieved, and come through it.

It’s privately acknowledged as a powerful part of his appeal. He lost his wife and one-year-old daughter in an automobile accident. His son Beau—who many believed could someday win the Presidency that had eluded Joe—died of brain cancer.

Biden is well known for privately offering up his own grief and suffering to help those experiencing loss themselves.
In a way, this convention seems to be offering it up very publicly, for what the nation is going through.

Thursday: Early Evening

I wasn’t quite expecting it when Marty Walsh popped onto my screen just past 8:00pm eastern time. I was logged into the Labor for Biden Convention Watch Party knowing that he was a scheduled speaker; I didn’t realize he would be the first introduced, and would continue to hang around, occasionally chiming in and conversing with other speakers.

Walsh, sported a green Laborers Local 223 T-shirt—the union he has belonged to for three decades, and which he served as president until he became mayor. He bantered familiarly with Erika Dinkel-Smith, the Biden campaign’s director of labor engagement, and others. When AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka joined the Zoom event with no audio, Walsh cracked wise that it was the quietest he’d ever known Richard to be.

Oh, and as a special surprise he introduced the Dropkick Murphys to play for the online gathering.

More than six-and-a-half years into his run as mayor of Boston, it’s easy to forget what a big deal Walsh is in national union circles. He’s more commonly seen these days sparring with those representing his police, teachers, and other employees.

But nationally, as was evident in that Labor for Biden event, Walsh remains a top-tier labor leader. He also has a close friendship with Biden. And, he is doing all he can in service of his friend’s election to the White House—most importantly, helping to win back white, blue-collar, union laborers in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Speculation has naturally increased that this augurs a role for Walsh in a Biden administration. It’s a little difficult to imagine the position that Biden could make available, that would be substantial enough for Walsh to walk away from his current position, the 2021 re-election he seems geared up for, and a long-anticipated state-wide campaign.

But don’t rule it out.