Like Lincoln at Gettysburg, Biden Promotes Unity in His Closing Argument

The Democratic nominee is running on a progressive platform, but his final pitch to voters is about union not ideology.

Joe Biden is running on a more progressive platform than any Democratic presidential nominee in modern history. His proposals include major investments in healthcare, climate change, housing, education, and infrastructure. For example, Biden would invest $1.7 trillion over the next ten years to achieve a 100 percent clean energy economy with net-zero emissions by 2050. 

The former vice president demonstrated his detailed knowledge of policy at the ABC News town hall forum. But his final statement on Thursday night was about optimism.

Last week, Biden delivered his own Gettysburg Address. Aides say the speech delivered near the sacred Pennsylvania battlefield was prompted by the first debate where Trump told white supremacists to “stand down and stand by.” At Gettysburg, Biden challenged such division and laid out his closing argument, drawing on Lincoln’s address more than 150 years ago. 

There’s no more fitting place than here today in Gettysburg, to talk about the cost of division....

[Abraham Lincoln] believed in the rescue, redemption, and rededication of the union. All this in a time, not just of ferocious division, but of widespread death, structural inequity, and fear of the future. And he taught us this: a house divided could not stand. That is a great and timeless truth. Today, once again, we are a house divided, but that my friends can no longer be.

Biden explained that the battle for the soul of this nation means, once again, defeating the forces of division that pull us apart and hold us back. He promised to be a president who “appeals to the best in us, not the worst.”

That message was punctuated by the release of this ad airing nationally.

To policy wonks and political junkies, that can sound saccharine. But I am reminded of what  Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica, said about the battleground on which elections are fought. He noted that the big mistake political parties make is to attempt to win an argument with facts rather than a direct appeal to voters’ hopes and fears.

Of course, the specialty of Cambridge Analytica, the consulting firm that Steve Bannon worked with leading up to the 2016 election, was to exploit our fears. That is what Republicans have been doing for several election cycles. Tapping into fear engaged enough of Trump’s GOP base to eke out an electoral college victory in 2016. 

But Americans are exhausted after four years of lies, bullying, and fear-mongering. The majority of voters are disgusted by the president’s antics, which is why Biden’s lead has been growing.

Some progressives suggest that Biden is abandoning his party’s far left in search of support from moderates. They would have a point if Biden were abandoning his progressive policies. But he’s not. As he said in response to the president calling him a “radical,” Trump is “trying to run against somebody other than me. I’ve said to the left, the right, and the center exactly where I am on each of these issues.”

The policies Biden has put forward stand. But his closing argument is designed to forge a coalition of citizens who believe, as Abraham Lincoln did, in the kind of leadership that calls out “the better angels of our nature.” It is a message of hope about what is possible if, as Biden said at Gettysburg, “we do our part, if we stand together, if we keep faith with the past and with each other.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.