I found myself riveted on Wednesday night by another Biden video, one that showed President Barack Obama awarding him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As Obama did this, Biden grew so overwhelmed and uncharacteristically bashful that he stepped away from Obama and turned his back to both the audience and the camera, so that he effectively disappeared from the frame.
I can’t in my wildest dreams imagine Trump having that reaction. He’d shove everyone else aside. He’d consider the accolade his due. He’d complain out loud — or later that day in a tweet — that it was too long in coming.
In its way, that video defined the convention, which often directed attention away from Biden and toward the country that he aspires to lead. Sure, there were testimonials and montages about his many fine qualities. But there was as much focus on what Americans are enduring and what they deserve.
They kept popping up to tell us. Biden gladly and graciously ceded the spotlight, an incredibly smart decision in the context of the current president. He was making clear that he wouldn’t rule as some self-obsessed despot whose personal melodramas sucked the energy out of everyone and everything else. He wouldn’t rule at all. He’d govern. It’s a different, humbler thing.
And the compliments lavished on Biden across all four nights weren’t the sort reserved for superheroes. They were the kind applied to the best of so-called ordinary folk. We kept hearing that he was good. Decent. Sensible. Honest.
And that was what he conveyed in his speech. He promised a return to normalcy. A return to kindness. He promised to protect us.
And he promised, at least implicitly, to be an example to us. When he brought up President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, he did it in a telling way. He didn’t just recall that Roosevelt “pledged a New Deal in a time of massive unemployment, uncertainty and fear.” He also reminded us that “Stricken by disease, stricken by a virus, F.D.R. insisted that he would recover and prevail and he believed America could as well. And he did. And so can we.”
In other words, personal fortitude is bound together with national fortitude. Our leader’s arc is our own. Biden was saying that toughness and faith go a long way, toward a brighter day. And he was telling us that he could show us that path.