dnc roll call screengrab
What the Democratic Convention roll call showed us about America
02:09 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Jill Biden closed out the second night of the Democratic National Convention describing her husband in deeply personal terms as a loving father and supportive husband who rebuilt his family after tragedy – and would now be able to heal a deeply divided nation.

Speaking both as an educator who pursued her own career as Joe Biden worked as a senator in Washington, she compared the fracture she helped heal in her husband’s family after the death of his first wife, Neilia, and 1-year-old daughter, Naomi, in a 1972 car accident to the emotional hollowness of America in the time of a pandemic.

“How do you make a broken family whole? The same way you make a nation whole: with love and understanding, and with small acts of compassion; with bravery; with unwavering faith,” Jill Biden continued.

She explained how they worked together as a couple to create a strong blended family with a sense of determination and resilience, which helped them weather the second great tragedy of Biden’s life: the death of his son Beau Biden, a former Delaware attorney general, from brain cancer in 2015.

“We found that love holds a family together. Love makes us flexible and resilient,” she said. “It allows us to become more than ourselves – together. And though it can’t protect us from the sorrows of life, it gives us refuge – a home.”

Noting Biden’s sense of duty to the people who elected him, she said there have been times when she couldn’t imagine “how he did it—how he put one foot in front of the other and kept going,” she said. “But I’ve always understood why he did it. … He does it for you.”

Without mentioning President Donald Trump, she argued that the nation needs someone to heal it at a time when the President’s first instinct has been to divide Americans even in the midst of a deadly pandemic that has claimed more than 170,000 American lives.

“The burdens we carry are heavy, and we need someone with strong shoulders,” she said. “I know that if we entrust this nation to Joe, he will do for your family what he did for ours: bring us together and make us whole.”

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The former second lady offered her perspective as a teacher, delivering her speech from Brandywine High School in Wilmington, Delaware, where she taught English in the 1990s. She noted the difficulties and uncertainties that many parents are facing as they decide whether to send their children back to school in the middle of a pandemic.

Anchoring her speech in an empty classroom, she spoke about how she missed the energy and young faces of school kids who are now confined to boxes on computer screens in their virtual lessons.

“This quiet is heavy,” she said, describing anxiety “that echoes down empty hallways.” But she also tried to convey a message of hope about the future.

“The playgrounds are still. But if you listen closely, you can hear the sparks of change in the air,” Jill Biden said. “Across the country, educators, parents, first responders – Americans of all walks of life are putting their shoulders back, fighting for each other. We haven’t given up. We just need leadership worthy of our nation. Worthy of you.”

Throughout the night, convention organizers sought to show Joe Biden’s kindness and connection to average Americans, even during the virtual roll call vote where the party formally nominated the former vice president for president of the United States.

The event, which would normally take place in a crowded convention hall with delegates from each state cheering in their designated sections, instead unfolded in videos and appearances that highlighted the vast diversity of the party.

Educators, elected officials, union members, essential workers and health care providers all took part in the celebratory moment, sometimes from exotic locales, beaches and landmarks in their states. Democrats from the Northern Mariana Islands, for example, wore festive flowered garlands while others from urban areas spoke in front of colorful murals bearing messages that spoke to the party’s goals.

The linguistic diversity of Democrats was also on full display, as Spanish and multiple Native languages were heard throughout the roll call. In a callback to the usual recognition of unique foods and landmarks in each state during past convention floor roll calls, a restaurant worker from Rhode Island held out a plate of fried calamari. Speakers included activists and tradesman, such as an Alaskan fisherman, a Kansas farmer and a Missouri bricklayer.

When the formalities were finished, Biden accepted the nomination from the library at Brandywine — near the site of his wife’s speech later in the night. In a touch meant to signify the importance of Biden’s family, his grandchildren burst into the library with a pop of brightly colored streamers.

“Thank you very, very much from the bottom of my heart,” Biden said in brief remarks before putting his mask back on. “Thank you all. It means the world to me and my family, and I’ll see you on Thursday.”

In many of the other speeches Tuesday night, speakers focused on Biden’s personal story and his empathy for his fellow Americans but also offered sharp critiques of Trump’s time in office as the night’s programming centered on the theme “leadership matters.”

The keynote speech took an unusual format, featuring 17 rising stars in the Democratic Party.

“This year’s choice could not be more clear. America faces a triple threat: a public health catastrophe, an economic collapse and a reckoning with racial justice and inequality,” said Stacey Abrams, a former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who has taken a prominent role in the party championing voting rights. “Our choice is clear: a steady experienced public servant who can lead us out of this crisis just like he’s done before; or a man who only knows how to deny and distract. A leader who cares about our families or a president who only cares about himself.”

Clinton and Ocasio-Cortez highlight early speeches

Former President Bill Clinton showed the pithy, explanatory political skills that made him a two-term White House resident and helped reelect Barack Obama as he lacerated Trump’s performance during the coronavirus pandemic.

“At first he said the virus was under control and would soon disappear,” Clinton said of Trump. “When it didn’t, he was on TV every day bragging on what a great job he was doing, while our scientists waited to give us vital information. When he didn’t like the expert advice he was given, he ignored it.”

“Only when Covid exploded in even more states did he encourage people to wear masks,” Clinton said in a video recorded in his living room in Chappaqua, New York.

“By then, many more were dying. When asked about the surge in deaths, he shrugged and said, ‘It is what it is.’ But did it have to be this way? No.”

Clinton has been a star performer at Democratic conventions since the 1980s but got only around five minutes for his video speech boosting Biden this year.

Targeting undecided voters, Clinton said, “If you want a president who defines the job as spending hours a day watching TV and zapping people on social media, (Trump’s) your man. Denying, distracting and demeaning works great if you’re trying to entertain or inflame. But in a real crisis, it collapses like a house of cards.”

“You know what Donald Trump will do with four more years: blame, bully, and belittle. And you know what Joe Biden will do: build back better.”

The 42nd President’s centrist policies on welfare and crime are now criticized by many young progressive activists in the party. Their point of view was represented at the convention on Tuesday night by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Ocasio-Cortez, a longtime supporter of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, was one of several Democrats who nominated Sanders before the virtual roll call at the convention on Tuesday night.

Since Sanders dropped out, many Democrats have looked to Ocasio-Cortez to serve as a bridge between the progressive wing of the party and the moderate wing after the long, protracted primary fight. The New York Democrat served as a co-chair of a climate change task force – one of several unity commissions the two teams formed to try to unite the party.

During a 95-second address, she highlighted the issues that Sanders championed and did not mention Biden.

“In a time when millions of people in the United States are looking for deep systemic solutions to our crises of mass evictions, unemployment, and lack of health care, and​ espíritu del pueblo and out of a love for all people,” she said, “I hereby second the nomination of Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont for president of the United States of America.”

Republican support for Biden again on display

The evening also featured a video about the cross-party friendship between Biden and the late Sen. John McCain, narrated by the Arizona Republican’s widow, Cindy.

The Senate veterans once traded barbs on foreign policy but bonded across party lines in a friendship dating to when McCain served as a military aide after returning from years as a prisoner in the Vietnam War.

The former vice president delivered a powerful eulogy for his friend at McCain’s memorial service after he died of brain cancer in 2018.

“My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat. And I love John McCain,” he said.

Another prominent Republican – former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who served under President George W. Bush – offered a video testimonial about Biden as part of the Democrats’ effort to draw in Republicans and independents who are frustrated with Trump’s leadership and his divisive tactics.

Though Powell, who was also chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush, served under Republican administrations, he has voted for Democrats in the three most recent presidential elections.

In his video message, Powell said that America needs a commander in chief who will take care of US troops the same way that he would take care of his own family.

“For Joe Biden that doesn’t need teaching, it comes from the experience he shares with millions of military families sending his beloved son off to war and praying to God he would come home safe,” Powell said.

Entering the conventions, Biden was leading Trump 51% to 42% nationally, according to a CNN Poll of Polls on the general election matchup. But a CNN poll conducted by SSRS and released Sunday showed a tighter race, with Biden at 50% and Trump at 46%.

One reason why Trump’s standing had improved in the CNN poll released Sunday was that he had solidified his support among more conservative voters. Back in June, 8% of Republican or Republican-leaning independents said they would back Biden – but in the new poll only 4% planned to support the former vice president.

The poll showed an opportunity for Democrats in the final months of the election, however, because Trump’s voters were more likely to say they could change their minds (12% said they could) than Biden’s (only 7% said so).