As Joe Biden approaches his acceptance address for the 2020 Democratic National Convention he faces a variety of difficulties.
Of course there’s the normal issues, like needing to touch on dozens of policies and reach out to countless constituencies. Now, however, the nominee must also deal with the reality that his speech will have to be delivered to an empty room with no real crowd reaction.
At this critical juncture in the campaign, we’re left wondering just what Joe Biden is going to say.
Well, our best bet would be to study his previous convention speeches. So in preparation I watched every one of his addresses that I could find to search for clues.
While Biden gave a short speech at the 1980 DNC, most networks were covering the Carter-Kennedy nomination fight so the video isn’t available online. It took sixteen years for the former Senator from Delaware to reach the podium again. He finally got another chance during the second day of the 1996 convention in Chicago, and when it arrived he was hoarse.
“I’ve lost my voice cheering for Jesse Jackson and Mario Cuomo,” he joked before lamenting that “had Jesse gone another 20 minutes, I would’ve made prime-time.”
Biden received the hand-off from Rep. John Lewis and his task that day was to promote the 1994 crime bill, which at the time was considered a major accomplishment of the Clinton Administration. He touched on specific portions of the legislation that he was deeply involved in such as the assault weapons ban and the Violence Against Women Act.
“Bill Clinton is the best friend that cops in America have ever, ever had,” he declared at one point, a sentiment that we’re unlikely to hear this week.
Eight years later, Sen. Biden had moved up the pecking order in the Democratic Party. Since he was a close confidant of John Kerry’s, he snagged a nice spot on the final night. His focus on world affairs suggests that he was using this as an opportunity to pitch himself as a potential Secretary of State in a Kerry Administration.
“Americans are bigger and better than the past four years have led the world to believe about us,” he said.
There were quite a number of statements that wouldn’t be out of place if he delivered them this week. In fact, a line about not just leading by “the example of our power, but the power of our example” was actually re-used in 2012 and 2016.
It’s also worth noting that Biden’s proclivity for slip-ups and mistakes, a tendency Donald Trump loves to trumpet, is a long-standing trait.
At one point, when Biden was discussing how America and the world will be different “when John Kerry is President” he began with “when John Kennedy” before correcting himself.
The closing of his 2004 address also contained a precursor to his 2020 message about “restoring the soul of the nation.”
“It’s time to reclaim America’s soul,” he stated back then.
Flash forward four years and Biden was at last a major star. The new VP nominee used his time in the national spotlight to discuss his personal background and hit GOP standard-bearer John McCain.
He began with shout-outs to his wife, sons, daughter, and even his mom. He even took a shot at himself, acknowledging that he’s “never been called a man of few words.”
While trying to tie McCain to George W. Bush, Biden actually made a mistake similar to the one from 2004.
“If George, excuse me, if John McCain is elected President of the United States of America,” he proclaimed, laughing and adding “Freudian slip.”
One section that seems poignant in retrospect is Biden’s condemnation of Russia for their recent invasion of Georgia. Don’t be surprised if Russia is brought up again this Thursday.
Biden gave his longest convention speech while seeking re-election in 2012. This particular oration focused on praise for his running mate. It was an early public display of a thoroughly memed and merchandised bromance.
“This man has courage in his soul, compassion in his heart and a spine of steel,” the VP said of the 44th President.
As a result, he got to say his most memorable slogan in front of the largest possible audience: “Osama bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.”
Four years ago, the outgoing Vice President used his platform to deliver perhaps the most passionate denunciation of Donald Trump of the entire 2016 convention.
“His cynicism is unbounded. His lack of empathy and compassion can be summed up in a phrase I suspect he’s most proud of having made famous ‘You’re fired’,” Biden thundered. “How can there be pleasure in saying ‘You’re fired’? He’s trying to tell us he cares about the middle class? Give me a break, that’s a bunch of malarkey!”
He was even able to inspire the rare non-manufactured chant after asserting that Trump “has no clue about what makes America great. Actually, he has no clue period.”
The whole performance was raw, as he discussed the recent death of his son Beau and quoted Hemingway on grief.
What becomes clear after watching all of Biden’s past performances is how consistent his brand of personality is. It mixes Irish sentimentality, fire-brand attacks, and expressions of devotion with long-windedness as well as the occasional miscue.
Despite the exceptional circumstances this year, expect more of the same from the Democratic nominee.