Joe Biden's Empathy Offensive


In his latest audition to be America’s Healer-in-Chief, Vice President Joe Biden delivered a speech on Tuesday about the fight against systemic racism, which he said was fundamental to a “battle for the soul of the nation” this election year. “The country is crying out for leadership,” Biden said, speaking at a podium at Philadelphia City Hall, flanked by American flags. “Leadership that can unite us, leadership that brings us together, leadership that can recognize the pain and deep grief of communities that have had a knee on their neck for a long time.”
The speech was the latest in Biden’s empathy offensive—a series of remarks and public appearances that talk about the pain at the heart of the nationwide protests, while calling for unity to confront systemic racism. Biden’s strategy is to make his presidential campaign a contrast between character and empathy on his part and antagonism and bluster on Trump’s. In the process, Biden is hoping to demonstrate a model of leadership rooted in shared suffering and compassion, themes that have animated his political career.
As he has often done over his decades in public life, Biden spoke Tuesday about personal mourning and historical grief, this time in the context of communities protesting the continuing scourge of racial injustice. “We’re a nation in pain, but we must not let our pain destroy us,” he said. “We’re a nation enraged, but we cannot let our rage consume us. We’re a nation that’s exhausted, but we will not allow our exhaustion to defeat us.”
Those themes serve his larger goal of drawing a character contrast with the President’s response. Trump, who tweeted that the protesters were “THUGS” and vowed that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” had spent the weekend threatening protesters outside the White House with “vicious dogs” and “ominous weapons,” and urged the nation’s governors to “dominate” the protesters, whom he called “terrorists.” On Monday, Trump delivered a speech in the Rose Garden threatening the use of military force against protests and vowing to “end it now.”
Biden, by contrast, used the Tuesday speech as an opportunity to illustrate a different vision of leadership. “I look at the presidency as a very big job, and nobody will get it right every time, and I won’t either,” he said in Philadelphia. “But I promise you this: I won’t traffic in fear and division, I won’t fan the flames of hate, I’ll seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued our country, not use them for political gain.”

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