Flat White

The granddad speech

22 August 2020

1:39 PM

22 August 2020

1:39 PM

CNN is saying the Biden speech proves he isn’t an old man, even though anyone with elderly parents would recognize it as the ‘granddad speech’ – the one where all the grandchildren applaud because he gets through it without falling over. 

What we don’t tell the grandchildren about the granddad speech is that granddad was probably heavily medicated at the time of delivery and I’m allowed to say this because my old dad is dead. But this is like explaining how The Beatles made Sergeant Pepper. 

This is the genius of low expectations which informs all granddad speeches (isn’t it great, he managed to get through it – and what a memory…. and look he remembered to keep his fly zipped up. Which in the Clinton years wasn’t always as easy as it seems). This no doubt informs the gushing CNN panel as they announce a ‘speech for our times’ that proves Biden has still got it even though the political evidence from a fairly middling political career suggests he never really had it in the first place.  


The speech is a lot better than anyone expected. Biden doesn’t fall over or accidentally push the off button on the teleprompter. He speaks clearly and with some passion. In a political debate, these are strong pluses. As there are no nursing staff assisting this makes for additional points. There is no audience either. This certainly explains some of the creeping stiltedness that seems to be entirely missed by CNN (they could at least acknowledge it  – that low expectations thing again) 

Everything being COVID virtual, there is no crowd to riff off and travel to greater rhetorical heights like a white Barack. But at his age, Joe shouldn’t be climbing up ladders anyway.  


The speech is boilerplate apocalyptic. Light and Dark, good and evil. Biden, of course, is the light and Trump, Sauron with Trump Towers a kind of billionaire Mordor with personal swimming pool and prostitutes. But I digress.  

Trump MUST GO, is the thematic. Biden outlines a list of failings both as policy and basic human decency. It’s the character thing. It’s the CoVid stupid. Corona is Trump’s kryptonite and Biden’s speechwriters know it. 

This polarizing of position plays well to a Left base that despite its platitudes about diversity and understanding so often see their opponents as a good/evil binary (in Trump’s case, pure evil) and Left policymaking, whether on climate change or gender fluidity as pure-Jesus. The religiosity of the secular left can never be underestimated. 

Biden is Catholic and no play to Middle America can be without its God-bothering. Biden refers to us as God’s children. This will cause much teeth grinding for the more extreme elements of his Black Live Matters support that are way too sophisticated and post-everything for this white bread stuff. But they know how this game is played, and they can always let off steam later by trashing a Gucci store. 

This speech is meant to reassure. While race relations are a key focus and the mandatory mention of George Floyd included, it avoids the more dubious aspects of the BLM protests preferring to highlight the Trump-loving neo-Nazis of Charlottesville instead  

But he can’t talk about neo-Nazis forever or hide the BLM crazy. How a seemingly deeply incapacitated President Biden manages the wilder and expectant elements of his anti-Trump voter base is the great unanswered question of this candidacy and why we all need to watch Kamala Harris closely. 

The point of this speech is to reassure and say Trump must go. Biden delivers on both counts and now it is time for his bedtime hot chocolate.  

What’s next?

Low expectations are a dangerous thing and what got us where we are now in the first place. With Donald Trump it went something like this, ‘he can’t possibly run… he won’t possibly be the Republican candidate, he can’t possibly win and what sort of deplorables voted for him anyway.’   

Do the Democrats really want to play the politics of low expectations? The answer based on this speech is emphatically yes.  

Michael Scammell is a former US Consulate Media Officer and political speechwriter. 

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