Joe Biden’s Campaign Announcement Video, Annotated

Joseph R. Biden Jr. began his 2020 campaign on Thursday, casting it as a rescue mission for a country facing a dire threat from its elected leader, President Trump. His announcement video was a three-and-a-half minute statement of political values, and an attempt to address why a 76-year-old former vice president is now returning to the campaign trail.

Below is a transcript of the video, annotated with our observations.

Charlottesville, Va., is home to the author of one of the great documents in human history. We know it by heart: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

We’ve heard it so often, it’s almost a cliché. But it’s who we are. We haven’t always lived up to these ideals; Jefferson himself didn’t. But we have never before walked away from them.

Charlottesville is also home to a defining moment for this nation in the last few years. It was there on August of 2017 we saw Klansmen and white supremacists and neo-Nazis come out in the open, their crazed faces illuminated by torches, veins bulging, and bearing the fangs of racism. Chanting the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ‘30s. And they were met by a courageous group of Americans, and a violent clash ensued and a brave young woman lost her life.

Alexander Burns, national political correspondent:

This is some of the starkest language we have heard from any Democratic candidate regarding Mr. Trump and the hard-right nationalists who make up part of his base — references to Nazis and the Klan, and to forces that were on the march in 1930s Europe. Mr. Biden is using his age to his advantage here, presenting himself as a voice of historical authority, and situating the 2020 race in a much longer timeline.

And that’s when we heard the words from the president of the United States that stunned the world and shocked the conscience of this nation. He said there were “some very fine people on both sides.” Very fine people on both sides?

With those words, the president of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment, I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had ever seen in my lifetime.

Alexander Burns:

This part reads as an effort to address any sense of distrust or concern among Democrats, who may see a 76-year-old’s third campaign for the presidency as something of an ego-driven enterprise. Why not just retire happily after a (very) long political career, and make way for a new generation? Mr. Biden hopes voters will find this explanation compelling.

I wrote at the time that we’re in the battle for the soul of this nation. Well, that’s even more true today. We are in the battle for the soul of this nation.

I believe history will look back on four years of this president and all he embraces as an aberrant moment in time. But if we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation — who we are — and I cannot stand by and watch that happen.

Alexander Burns:

Mr. Biden is raising the stakes for the Democratic primary and making explicit what most Democrats already believe about the implications of the 2020 race. And he is implicitly asking Democrats to consider, above all else, which candidate appears best equipped to win. Mr. Trump’s presidency, he is saying, can be a somewhat brief, regrettable experience or a turning point in American history, and making him an aberration is more important than any other issue.

The core values of this nation, our standing in the world, our very democracy, everything that has made America, America, is at stake.

That’s why today I’m announcing my candidacy for President of the United States.

Folks, America’s an idea, an idea that’s stronger than any army, bigger than any ocean, more powerful than any dictator or tyrant. It gives hope to the most desperate people on earth, it guarantees that everyone is treated with dignity and gives hate no safe harbor. It instills in every person in this country the belief that no matter where you start in life, there’s nothing you can’t achieve if you work at it.

Alexander Burns:

This is the rhetoric of restoration, a kind of anti-Trump version of “make America great again.” Mr. Biden is asking voters to see him as a way of bringing back normalcy — and a version of normalcy that draws heavily on many voters’ favorable memories about the Obama administration. What’s not here yet: a sense of Mr. Biden’s forward-looking vision for the country.

That’s what we believe. And above all else, that’s what’s at stake in this election.

We can’t forget what happened in Charlottesville. Even more important, we have to remember who we are.

This is America.

Alexander Burns:

Notably absent here: policy, biography, ideology. This is among the broadest and most oratorical announcement videos we’ve seen so far, totally bereft of the line graphs we saw in Senator Elizabeth Warren’s kickoff or the vivid personal biography in Senator Cory Booker’s. Unlike other candidates, Mr. Biden has the luxury of already being known to most voters. But it is by no means clear that this posture of being above the fray, preoccupied with great moral questions rather than white papers and political litmus tests, is sustainable in a very crowded Democratic race.

Matt Stevens contributed reporting.

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