The absence of leadership was deafening Friday in the White House Rose Garden, where cameras and reporters sat focused on an empty podium for nearly an hour as Minneapolis burned, and a nation raged, over the senseless killing of George Floyd.
Floyd, who was black, died in police custody Monday after officer Derek Chauvin was captured on video holding his knee on Floyd's neck and throat for nearly nine minutes. Floyd's pleas for his life -- "I can't breathe" -- were all too familiar after the death of Eric Garner, who spoke the same dying words from a police chokehold in Staten Island, N.Y., in 2014.
A static shot of the president-less Rose Garden was shown at the bottom of the screen on MSNBC and other outlets ("The president will speak soon") as news of the unrest erupted around it: clips of demonstrators, horrifying footage of Floyd's last moments, a press conference announcing that former officer Chauvin had finally been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
Then finally, a voice of competent governance broke into the news to address the unfurling crisis. But the words about justice and healing weren't coming from the capital.
"One of the things every human being must be able to do: Breathe. So simple. So basic. So brutal," said former Vice President Joe Biden, who was livestreaming from his home studio in Delaware. "(The) same thing happened with (Ahmaud) Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. ... It's a list that dates back 400 years," he said.
"The original sin of this country still stains our nation today," Biden said of slavery's lasting, brutal legacy on the lives of black Americans. "If we stand by and remain silent, we are complicit."
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who appeared to be holding back anger as he read prepared remarks, was brief and clear: The country needs to fix and heal an "open wound" of systemic racism, and seek justice for Floyd and his family. And Biden will do everything in his power to make sure that happens.
Biden's direct appeal was in sharp contrast to President Donald Trump's comments Friday, which arrived via Twitter in the wee hours. Referring to the Minnesota protesters as "thugs," he wrote, "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."
The contrast between the two men's approaches couldn't have been starker, even though they're both known for saying what's on their minds and dropping verbal gaffes like cracked Easter eggs. In Trump's case, it's a reckless approach that has won him fans. For Biden, it's been viewed as a deficit that could sink his chances of occupying the Oval Office.
But in 2020, Biden's unedited, off-the-cuff tendency to speak what he feels -- or fumble to find the right words -- is arguably more effective against Trump's rudimentary barbs than, say, the slick verbiage of Mayor Pete Buttigieg or the carefully parsed words of Minnesota's Sen. Amy Klobuchar.