Jill Biden described a nation confronted by a great moment of pain in a Democratic National Convention address while offering her husband, now the party’s official presidential nominee, as a candidate “with strong shoulders” who is uniquely qualified to carry the burden.
From a high school in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday night, Biden talked about the loss of normalcy and the loss of life amid a coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 170,000 Americans.
“I hear it from so many of you,” Biden said from an empty classroom where she once taught English. “The frustration of parents juggling work while they support their children’s learning — or are afraid that their kids might get sick from school. The concern of every person working without enough protection. The despair in the lines that stretch out before food banks. And the indescribable sorrow that follows every lonely last breath when the ventilators turn off.”
After two nights of searing condemnations of President Donald Trump, including one from former first lady Michelle Obama, Biden did not mention him once in her speech to close Tuesday’s primetime program. But implicit in her 10-minute speech — and prevalent in remarks earlier in the evening from surrogates that include a parade of anti-Trump Republicans — was an argument that the country also is suffering from a loss of leadership.
“As a mother and a grandmother, as an American, I am heartbroken by the magnitude of this loss — by the failure to protect our communities, by every precious and irreplaceable life gone,” Biden said. “Like so many of you, I’m left asking: How do I keep my family safe?”
From there, the former second lady recalled the tragedies her family has overcome, beginning with the death of Biden’s first wife and young daughter in a 1972 car crash. She spoke of how she struggled with the idea of marriage to a widower and his two surviving sons. (“We think it’s time we married Jill,” Joe Biden, in a video that aired before the speech, recalled Beau and Hunter declaring.)
“You know, motherhood came to me in a way I never expected,” Jill Biden said. “I fell in love with a man and two little boys standing in the wreckage of unthinkable loss, mourning a wife and mother, a daughter and sister. I never imagined, at the age of 26, I would be asking myself: How do you make a broken family whole?”
A moment later, she repeated and answered the question. “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 kindness. With bravery, with unwavering faith. You show up for each other, in big ways and small ones, again and again. It’s what so many of you are doing right now for your loved ones, for complete strangers, for your communities.”
Biden also spoke of Beau's death from brain cancer and drew on her husband’s recovery from that personal trauma as an example of how he’d lead as president. Joe, then vice president and considering a White House bid in 2016, decided his grief made it the wrong time to launch a campaign, Jill told Vogue last year. “Four days after Beau’s funeral,” she said Tuesday night, “I watched Joe shave and put on his suit. I saw him steel himself in the mirror, take a breath, put his shoulders back, and walk out into a world empty of our son. He went back to work. That’s just who he is.”
For Jill Biden, Tuesday brought a rare opportunity to reach a large audience watching on TV and online. Many of the profiles of her over the years have cast her as a somewhat reluctant if integral partner in her husband’s political career. Go back to the archives on Joe’s clumsy 1988 run for president and you can find Jill in the shot on the day he dropped out, a look of pain in her eyes. Scan a few of the profiles that ran this week in the run-up to her speech, and you’ll be reminded of the time she donned a bikini and scribbled “NO” on her belly to respond to overtures to draft her husband into the 2004 presidential race.
In her 2019 memoir, Where the Light Enters, Jill wrote of how, when she finally accepted Joe’s marriage proposal, he promised her life wouldn’t change. “It would turn out to be wildly untrue, of course. Life is change. And our lives would be more amazing and more unbearably difficult than we could have known as we smiled at each other over dinner that night. There have been tragedies. We have had our hearts wrung and broken. But the only place we are safe from all the dangers of love is hell.”
Tuesday night, she looked upon the notion of change more optimistically.
“With Joe as president,” she said, “these classrooms will ring out with laughter and possibility once again. The burdens we carry are heavy, and we need someone with strong shoulders. 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, carry us forward in our time of need, keep the promise of America for all of us.”