In a forceful and eloquent victory speech Saturday night, President-elect Joe Biden vowed to usher in “a time to heal” in America, claiming a moral mandate as well as a political one as he vowed to comfort a bruised and angry nation.
More than a health care plan or a climate proposal, or a biting condemnation of his predecessor, Biden used his victory speech to offer the nation the one thing it truly needed: comfort.
“Now that the campaign is over — what is the people’s will? What is our mandate?” he said. “Americans have called on us to marshal the forces of decency and the forces of fairness. To marshal the forces of science and the forces of hope in the great battles of our time.”
This was what Biden’s campaign was always about: not a particular policy or specific ideology, but the promise to restore the moral authority to the Presidency that had been degraded under President Donald Trump. When he first announced his candidacy in early 2019, he vowed to “restore the soul of America.” Now, nineteen months and one Presidential victory later, he doubled down on that promise.
“Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses,” he said, echoing themes he articulated in his convention speech. “It is time for our better angels to prevail.”
Biden thanked the coalition that elected him — “the broadest and most diverse in history,” he said — and gave a special mention to the African-American community, who stuck by him throughout a primary where it once appeared all was lost for his third run at the White House. “And especially for those moments when this campaign was at its lowest — the African American community stood up again for me,” he said. “They always have my back, and I’ll have yours.”
But he promised to be a President to all Americans, not just those that supported him. “To those who voted for President Trump, I understand your disappointment tonight. I’ve lost a couple of elections myself,” he said. “But now, let’s give each other a chance.”
“I ran as a proud Democrat. I will now be an American President. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did,” he continued. “Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end — here and now.”
He also vowed to reach across the aisle, to work with Republicans to get things done. “If we can decide not to cooperate, then we can decide to cooperate,” he said. “And I believe that this is part of the mandate from the American people. They want us to cooperate.”
Biden largely avoided talking about specific policy goals or the nuts and bolts of governing, and instead focused on his promise to restore a sense of honor and decency to the office of the President. The speech defined Biden’s vision of the Presidency as the healer-in-chief, especially after four years of Trumpian divisiveness and chaos, and several months of a global pandemic that has killed more than 230,000 Americans. His Presidency would be about restoring faith in a nation that had nearly lost faith in itself.
At one point, he recited a hymn that had been a favorite of his late son Beau Biden, who died of brain cancer in 2015:
These were the words that offered Beau comfort when he needed it, and they were the words Biden offered Americans in this time of need. “And now, together — on eagle’s wings — we embark on the work that God and history have called upon us to do,” he concluded. “With full hearts and steady hands, with faith in America and in each other, with a love of country — and a thirst for justice — let us be the nation that we know we can be.”