The 5 Most Important Takeaways From Joe Biden And Kamala Harris' Victory Speeches
The incoming president and vice president pledged to take the first steps toward repairing and rebuilding America.
November 08, 2020 at 3:32 am
After finally emerging as the winning team in the 2020 presidential election, former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris took the stage for the first time as President and Vice President-elect on Saturday night. Appearing at a drive-in rally in Wilmington, Delaware, the heads of the incoming administration thanked their supporters and painted their vision of the future.
Here are the five most important moments, ideas and themes that emerged from their speeches to their supporters and the American people as a whole.
Biden and Harris are looking to rebuild America
Harris took the stage first – to Mary J. Blige’s “Work That,” which has apparently been her theme song for some time now. Reports say that she was wearing a white suit, possibly a reference to the women’s suffragists who set the stage for her success, but on TV the outfit looked golden, the perfect symbol for how valuable she’s been as a running mate.
Without directly referencing President Donald Trump, both Harris and Biden painted the picture of an America whose democracy and unity must be actively rebuilt from the last four years.
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris begins her speech by quoting the late Rep. John Lewis: “Democracy is not a state. It is an act.”
— ABC News (@ABC) November 8, 2020
It's family first
Harris was a tough act to follow, and Biden ran the risk of paling in comparison. A large chunk of the middle of Biden’s speech was simply shout-outs to family and supporters, reminiscent of an early 90s rap album. But this wasn’t just a digression from Biden’s message, but in many ways a core component of that message: family.
Both speeches referenced Beau Biden, the president-elect’s deceased son with whom Harris had developed a friendship years ago when they served as Attorney’s General of Delaware and California, respectively. Biden and Harris talked about how they had become family to one another through their experiences campaigning together, with the president-elect saying that Harris and her husband Doug had become “honorary Bidens.”
Yes. YES. "Kamala, Doug. You're Family. You're honorary Bidens now. Whether you like it or not."
— maggie savarino (@maggiesavarino) November 8, 2020
The constant references to family not only illustrate the moral make-up of Harris and Biden, but provide a useful organizing principle for approaching their effort to heal a divided nation. By extending the idea of family to the nation as a whole, Biden and Harris reframe the country’s divisions.
Seen this way, the last four years or more can be reimagined, not by irreconcilable divides between rival camps, but as squabbles between relatives. We all know that the arguments within a family can be the most bitter of all, but at the end of the day you all come back together. If there’s any hope for achieving unity in a country this divided, Biden and Harris would be wise to employ the family metaphor in their rhetoric and approach.
What Biden may lack in eloquence, he makes up for in empathy
Biden’s speeches are never as transcendent as those of former President Barack Obama or as polished as Harris’. But no one in politics today makes you feel like he understands your plight the way Biden does. This was perhaps best on display during the only moment when either winner said President Trump’s name. The moment was not one of scorn for Biden’s defeated opponent, but rather outreach to the outgoing president’s supporters.
“For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight. I've lost a couple times myself,” said Biden, putting himself in the shoes of a Trump supporter. “But now, let's give each other a chance."
President-elect Biden: "For all those of you who voted for President Trump, I understand the disappointment tonight. I've lost a couple times myself. But now, let's give each other a chance." pic.twitter.com/2awuBTSaUn
— Axios (@axios) November 8, 2020
Black people and our contributions were acknowledged and remembered
Blavity previously urged America not to forget the role that Black people played in making this victory possible, and for this speech at least, the incoming leaders indicated that they remember.
After Harris referenced women of all races and ethnicities who paved the way for her own victory – getting the biggest applause when she mentioned Black women in her list – she went on to specifically note “the Black women who too often are overlooked, but who so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.”
“Black women who too often are overlooked, but who so often prove they are the backbone of our democracy.”
Kamala Harris honored Black women in America as she becomes the first female Vice President-elect of the United States pic.twitter.com/vOjDYX9buT
— Bloomberg QuickTake (@QuickTake) November 8, 2020
Not to be outdone, Biden picked up the acknowledgement.
“The African American community stood up again for me," Biden told his gathered supporters. "They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”
Both Harris and Biden listed ending systemic racism as among their most pressing concerns, alongside fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, rebuilding the economy and reversing climate change. Biden even went deep, paraphrasing Langston Hughes.
“Too many dreams have been deferred for too long,” the incoming president said as he pledged to make the country more equal during a moment that caught the attention of How to Be an Anti-Racist author Ibram X. Kendi.
"Too many dreams have been deferred for too long."
–President-elect Joe Biden
— Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) November 8, 2020
The incoming administration will be about possibilities and opportunities
There were several references in both speeches to a battle for the soul of the nation, a common theme from the Biden-Harris campaign. But the president-elect wrapped up his comments by introducing a new motto. Appropriately moving beyond the battle metaphor now that the race is won, Biden argued that “we can define America in one word: possibilities."
"In America everyone should be given the opportunity to go as far as their dreams and God-given ability will take them," he continued.
"I’ve always believed we can define America in one word: Possibilities," President-elect Joe Biden said on Saturday. "That in America everyone should be given the opportunity to go as far as their dreams and God-given ability will take them."https://t.co/gWtHbXlAoF
— The New York Times (@nytimes) November 8, 2020
The appeal to possibilities and opportunities is an incredibly useful and adaptable message going forward. It can simultaneously appeal to the conservatives who want the opportunity to achieve economic success and the progressives who want to create a system of equal opportunity for all. It speaks to the secular notion of humankind’s unlimited potential for progress.
Biden and Harris look to do the seemingly impossible: bring together a nation so divided that it cannot agree on basic facts, much less political beliefs or policies. This is a monumental task, but Saturday night’s speeches were a good start.