Jess McIntosh is a Democratic strategist and former communications adviser for Hillary Clinton. She is also the co-host of the SiriusXM radio show “Signal Boost.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinions on CNN.
(CNN)For a couple of hours Thursday night, America was treated with honesty and compassion by a man who wants to hold its highest office. That could be the entire review right there, how jarring and unusual it was to visualize a president who could clear the extremely low bar of telling the truth and caring about pain. We’ve had presidents like that before, of course, but after a particularly brutal news week it was starting to feel like that kind of leadership belongs to a different era.
Jess McIntosh Joe Biden is at his best in this format, easily connecting with audience questioners and frankly answering moderator Anderson Cooper’s follow-ups during the CNN town hall in Scranton, Pennsylvania. Biden was prepared and he was angry. It was a tautly restrained outrage as he described the failings of President Donald Trump, and he seemed to hold back tears multiple times as he fielded questions from Americans experiencing overwhelming fear and loss amid the deadly coronavirus pandemic. Read More America is about to reach 200,000 deaths from Covid-19 and wildfires in the West are blocking out the sun. A former aide to Mike Pence has come forward to say the President only cared about winning reelection and thus failed to protect Americans from the coronavirus.Trump's town hall didn't go well No one has ever run for president under these circumstances, and you could forgive Joe Biden if his only platform was a pledge to not deliberately endanger our lives. But the platform Joe Biden is running on is incredibly daring: Trillions of dollars in economic stimulus, an amount that he and President Barack Obama knew would have been unthinkable after the 2008 financial crisis. He’s proposed a massive re-focusing of our entire manufacturing economy on fighting the climate crisis, a public works project the scope of which we haven’t seen since President Franklin Delano Roosevelt with all the humanity-affirming goal of John F. Kennedy’s moon shot. Biden’s economic plan stops feeding our national resources disproportionately to corporations and the ultra-wealthy and focuses on systems that benefit all of us — like education, caregiving and health care. A patient advocate at a cancer center, Joseph Farley, who makes under $15 an hour, fought tears as he described the economic devastation “these Covid times” had brought him. Biden explained that his plan would mandate a $15 minimum wage federally, interrupting himself to promise Farley, “If I can get your address, let me get to you.” Why America needs presidential debates now more than ever Throughout the night, Biden was deferential to the Americans asking him questions. He was detailed, he showed kindness, and he treated them with respect. American families are facing loss and existential fear like never before. They are facing eviction from their homes during a pandemic. On the West Coast, they are unable to open their windows because of unhealthy air, and sleep with bags packed in case they have to run from fire in the night. They are losing their parents, and husbands, and wives, to a disease that makes sure they die alone. They are putting their children to bed hungry in staggering numbers. They are unsure whether the planet will exist as we know it in just a few decades. The very first question came from a grieving woman, Shani Adams, who had lost a sister to Covid-19 after she contracted the virus at work. Immediately, Biden answered that his heart goes out to her and her sister’s children. He acknowledged that there were “a lot of empty chairs” in America tonight. But he didn’t just dignify her grief with his empathy, he dignified it with a plan to keep people from contracting the virus in the workplace. Get our free weekly newsletter
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Joe Vadala, a high school teacher who lives with Multiple Sclerosis and whose wife had lost her mother to Covid, said “I love teaching. But I don’t want to die.” He asked Biden if he’ll mandate children to get a vaccine when schools reopen and a vaccine is available. Biden, after showing a heartfelt sympathy, deferred that he wouldn’t issue a mandate until a vaccine is tested and approved to use on children. Furthermore, and in stark contrast to President Trump’s stance on a vaccine, the Democratic presidential nominee was emphatic that “if Fauci says a vaccine is safe, I would take the vaccine. We should listen to the scientists, not to the President.” Biden showed he gets grief. He has been through personal pain on an unimaginable scale, and he can testify to being made “stronger in the broken places.” On Thursday night, we saw a man who both seems to understand where we are broken and a man who has the strength of character to help us heal.