Since he first entered the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, former Vice President Joe Biden has vowed to “restore the soul of this nation.” In Dr. Jill Biden’s keynote address to the Democratic National Convention, delivered moments after her husband secured the party’s nomination, the former second lady sought to give shape to the soul of America that her husband promises to save.
Speaking from the empty halls of Brandywine High School in Wilmington, Delaware, where she once taught English, the former second lady likened her husband’s task—mending a country beset with a deadly plague, weakened economically, and riven with racial division—to the task he faced after the death of his first wife, Neilia, and his 1-year-old daughter Naomi only weeks after he was first elected to the U.S. Senate.
“I fell in love with a man and two little boys standing in the wreckage of unthinkable loss,” Biden said. “How do you make a broken family whole?”
Her answer: “The same way you make a nation whole: with love and understanding, and with small acts of kindness. With bravery, with unwavering faith.”
Biden’s remarks, the final address of the second night of the all-digital convention, were in contrast to much of the evening’s programming, wherein a fleet of national security experts envisioned Biden as a potential commander-in-chief, and Republican allies like former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Cindy McCain emphasized the former vice president’s steady leadership in a time of political, economic, and social upheaval.
Jill Biden’s focus was instead on Joe Biden the man, describing backyard barbecues and family dinners in more generic terms of his constant love and his ineffable goodness.
“There are times when I couldn’t imagine how he did it—how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going. But I’ve always understood why he did it… he does it for you,” Biden said. “Joe’s purpose has always driven him forward. His strength of will is unstoppable, and his faith is unshakable—because it’s not in politicians or political parties, or even himself… His faith is in you—in us.”
The convention address of a would-be first lady is normally part spousal cheerleading session, part soft-focus national introduction to a person who may soon be one of the most famous women in the world. The video package that played before Biden’s speech was in keeping with that tradition: an anecdote of her standing up to a school bully, archival footage of a younger Dr. Biden redolent of a Teen Spirit commercial, and a recounting of the now-contested version of her first date with the future vice president. The video also highlighted her work on behalf of military families as second lady, and featured the convention’s first and sole mention of Biden’s troubled son Hunter—in video from the late Beau Biden’s funeral, in which Hunter told his stepmother: “It’s your strength that holds this family together, and I know that you will make us whole again.”
But while the montage and some of Biden’s remarks verged on purple prose—“The playgrounds are still, but if you listen closely, you can hear the sparks of change in the air”—the primary focus was on the newly minted nominee, and on how the person he has described as his closest adviser and best friend sees his potential administration.
“We just need leadership worthy of our nation—worthy of you,” Biden said, pledging that her husband and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, “will work as hard as you do, every day, to make this nation better.”
“He will do for your family what he did for ours: bring us together and make us whole.”
The address had one coda as Joe Biden joined his wife of more than four decades onscreen, visibly flushed with emotion.
“I’m Jill Biden’s husband,” Biden joked, beet-red. “You can see why she’s the love of my life.”