It’s been described as pitch perfect, a great speech, and ‘what a president sounds like’ when addressing a national crisis. But it didn’t come from the President.
Former vice-president Joe Biden, the presumptive challenger to Donald Trump in November, delivered a highly-acclaimed speech today aimed at starting the healing process in the US after the killing of another black person at the hands of the police.
Joe Biden’s speech was powerful, personal, and passionate. One of the best political speeches I’ve heard in a long time. He was addressing the turmoil and despair across the United States over the death of George Floyd at the hands of white police officers.
Let’s take a look at it from a speaker’s point of view.
Biden’s speech was powerful because he used simple, plain language as he acknowledge the troubled times Americans are going through, with another episode of police violence against black people coming on top of the Covid-19 pandemic and the President’s divisive rhetoric.
He began with a powerful hook. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe” – the dying words of George Floyd as a police officer pressed his knee into his neck. But, said Biden, the words didn’t die with him. “They’re still being heard. They’re echoing across this nation. They speak to a nation where too often just the colour of your skin puts your life at risk.”
He didn’t mince words, taking aim at President Trump’s decision to stage a photo-op, bible in hand, on the steps of a church. “The president held up the bible at St. John’s Church yesterday. I just wished he’d opened it once in a while instead of just brandishing it. If he opened it, he could have learned something.”
He delivered tough love. “American history isn’t a fairy tale with a guaranteed happy ending.’
Above all Biden was passionate, but his was a quiet, understated passion. He didn’t shout. He maintained intimate contact with his audience. His tone was somber and heart-felt.
He pledged to work to reverse what he called ‘systemic racism’ in the country, and specifically mentioned legislation to outlaw police chokeholds.
He was humble. He offered no easy guarantee that he would be able to change the country if he became president in November. Real change would take generations, he said.
But he promised “I won’t traffic in fear and division. I won’t fan the flames of hate. I’ll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country, not use them for political gain. I’ll do my job and I’ll take responsibility – I won’t blame others.”
This speech was THE speech of Joe Biden’s long political career. Most political observer agree it was exactly the political speech the country needed at this time. A former Republican congressman, David Jolly, said “Now that’s how a President meets the moment.”