By Terrance Turner
Apparently, “momentarily” means two days later. My apologies for the delay. Here is the rest of Mr. Biden’s speech, again lightly edited for length and for clarity.
“This is about all our families. It’s about all our communities. The way I look at everything, and I mean this, I’m criticized for it occasionally — I look at everything through the prism of how it affects you, but your family and the community, all our communities. That’s why I’m a Democrat. That’s what got me involved in the first place,” he told the crowd. “So this isn’t an election to spend all our time in the battle of the soul for the democratic party. We’re in the battle for the soul of this country. We really are. That’s what got me involved in this election in the first place,” Biden said.
“From the time I was a kid, I got involved in the civil rights — I got involved in the civil rights movement. Coming home — by the way, my state, most of you don’t know, my state is the eighth largest black population in America. We have an awful lot in common. We were a slave state. We are just like a lot of states in the south. Except we were one of those border states […] when I was a kid, I worked with what was called the east side. I got deeply involved. I spent my time in the black church on Sunday, I must admit to you, after going to mass earlier in the morning. […]. But we’d sit there, and we’d organize. And we’d draw some hope from what was going on. When I came home, I went away to law school because we had no law school in Delaware at the time.
When I came home, Dr. King — I have only two political heroes. Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. And, folks, both were assassinated the last semester when I was in school, in law school. When I came home and I had a job with a fancy law firm, a good law firm, decent people. But my city, Wilmington, Delaware, was the only city in American history since the civil war occupied by the military, for 10 months, standing on the east corner withdrawn bayonets, as my professor would say, you can google it. No exaggeration. And what happened? I found myself in a position where I talked about all this time about being involved in the community. And after I got admitted to the bar in January, I realized I couldn’t stay in that law firm. I couldn’t — [I] quit and became a public defender.”
The assassinations of King and Kennedy had prompted Biden to become a public defender; nearly fifty years later, the events in Charlottesville in 2017 compelled Biden to run for president. He reflected on the violent protest: “I thought I knew an awful lot about how to deal with hate in this — I thought could you defeat hate. But I was wrong. What happened was, in 2017, the Charlottesville, close your eyes and picture those folks coming out of the field with their veins bulging, carry — veins bulging, carrying torches, Nazi banners. David Duke saying, ‘this is why we elected him,’ accompanied by white supremacists. And a young woman [Heather Heyer] was killed and the president was asked to comment. He said something no American president has ever said. He said, quote, ‘there were very fine people on both sides.”
The crowd began to boo. “By the way, it’s more than a boo, it’s a reality. No president has said that. That’s when I decided that I was going to run. That’s why I got in this race. I wrote an article in Atlantic magazine saying, we’re in the battle for the soul of the country. And I meant it. By the way — [applause] — it’s only gotten worse for him since then. The way he mocks people with disabilities. The way he talks down to people. The way he treats minorities like we’re subhuman. The way he deals with us and separates us, the way he embraces dictators around the world and pokes his finger in the eye of our allies. Look, his view of women is not even a view. No, I really mean it. It is — I shouldn’t get going. [laughter] but, folks, we’re at a very perilous moment.”
Biden elaborated on what winning would mean to him: “And winning means uniting America. I know a lot of my colleagues think we have to look at the other side as the enemy. If we do that, we can never get anything done,” he said. “We have to beat Donald Trump and the Republican party. But we can’t become like them. We can’t become like them. We have to heal our division, repair our democracy.”
And then, the tone shifted. “A few days ago I did a town meeting in Charleston, South Carolina; you might have seen it on CNN. I spoke with the Reverend Anthony Thompson. Whose wife, Maya, was studying the words of the bible with eight of her parishioners at Mother Emanuel Church when a white supremacist entering the church 4 and 1/2 years ago and gunned them all down. It was a weekly routine, reading scripture, finding purpose in faith and god and each other. And in an instant, hate’s vengeance pierced their faith and they [were] lost forever. But what’s remarkable about Reverend Thompson and the families of the Emanuel Nine, is that through their pain and grief, they did something totally remarkable. They forgave the killer. They forgave the killer. I was there. They forgave the killer. And in their forgiveness, change that had been fought for over 100 years in South Carolina began to occur. The Confederate flag came down. Real change began to take place. Because they talked about healing. That Sunday I came back to Mother Emanuel quietly. No press, no anybody. Just to see it. Because we, I, just lost our son six weeks earlier. And my family needed to be healed. So we came back, and we worshiped because that’s what it’s all about. It’s about healing, it’s about being reminded.
Many of you have been through similar things that I’ve been through. Some of you, worse than I’ve been through. But what do you need? You need purpose in your life. Purposely reminded that those you lost are still part of you. Beau was my soul,” he said, remembering the wife and daughter he lost in a car accident decades ago. “Reverend Thompson and other members of the congregation have gotten up and fought for purpose. Purpose of their lives. A purpose worthy of their loved ones. Worthy of the blessings to live in this remarkable country of ours. And they’re the reason, they’re the reason I’m in this race.”
Biden ended with a note of hope and a call to arms: “The days of Donald Trump’s divisiveness, I promise you, will soon be over. We can, and we must build a more perfect union. Because the American people have seen the alternative. So let’s get back up. We’re decent, we’re brave, we’re resilient people. We can believe again. We’re better than this moment and we’re better than this president. So get up — and let’s take back this country. [cheers and applause] we’re the United States of America. There’s nothing we cannot do if we do it together. God bless you all and may God protect our troops. Let’s take it back now! Now, now, now! [cheers and applause] Thank you.”