But there’s something about public testimony that drives home the truth of things. It did something to me to see so many ordinary Americans appear in squares on screens to tell their stories. It became possible to acknowledge, collectively, that yes, it really is this bad. The grief we all keep at bay in order to try to function is justified, and awesome, and real. And throughout all four nights, we were reminded of Joe Biden’s own tragic story: the loss of his wife and baby daughter and then the loss of his son Beau. The emotional argument was that Biden has functioned through grief and can help us function through it too—not by ignoring the things we grieve but by carrying the people we’ve lost in our hearts and seeking purpose.
I would normally lift an eyebrow at a politician saying that he sought the presidency because he’d found his purpose by channeling his grief into helping people. It sounds, oh, convenient. But the sheer number of people who told stories about Biden calling them or writing to them or reaching out to them—and who keep offering testimonies of this kind on social media—had the effect of lifting my other eyebrow in astonishment at the fact that this extraordinary claim has a shocking amount of evidence to back it. Biden has many flaws, but he really does care a great deal about other people. There’s no getting around it.
As interesting as the case the convention made is the case it didn’t: The argument for Biden is not that he is brilliant, or a businessman, or a policy wonk. The case it made was that he is humble—and that he listens. If the melody of this convention was that Biden cares, the harmony was that he attends: that he reads the train magazine no one reads. That he watched Amy Klobuchar’s speech on C-SPAN even when there was no one in the room listening. Even Barack Obama’s extremely warm endorsement harped on Biden’s humility, sharing Biden’s lecture to his son that “no one’s better than you, but you’re better than nobody.”