There was a moment last evening, under the cool night sky, when the true purpose of Fortune Brainstorm Health became clear.
In the moments before that one, Joe Biden, the 47th Vice President of the United States, had been speaking with Dr. David Agus, the profoundly accomplished and respected oncologist who is the co-chair of Brainstorm Health, about everything in life that matters: hope, history, heart, humility, hunger, health.
They had talked about Biden’s plans to continue the impressive work of the White House Cancer Moonshot he’d led—which has been reborn, happily, as the Biden Cancer Initiative. They had talked about the near-collapse, and then restoration, of federal funding for science. (Those cuts were avoided, he said, “because guess what? The public has moved ahead of the administration.”) They had discussed the gouging of prices for essential medicines—“immoral,” the Vice President called it, flatly. And they had talked about why hope and ambition are essential for the highest office of the land. “A country will never be more optimistic than its president,” said Biden.
By this point—in the moments before that singular moment—Biden had rocketed up from his chair, his voice had deepened, and he was standing a foot from the edge of the world stage. By this point, there wasn’t a person sitting under that clear black San Diego sky who wasn’t rapt with attention.
Said Biden: “When Kennedy announced the Moonshot, everybody remembers all the things he talked about going to the moon—but the one line that sticks out in my mind from that speech, is he said, ‘We are no longer ready to postpone.’”
Biden then said it again: “We should be no longer ready to postpone.”
The progress we make now against cancer and myriad other diseases won’t just help the millions of people around the world who have those illnesses and their loved ones. “It will have a transformative effect on how we think about ourselves,” Biden said.
And he promised not to shrink away from his commitment to help bring about that transformation: “My Dad used to have this expression. He’d say, ‘It’s a lucky person who gets up in the morning, puts both feet on the floor, knows what they’re about to do and think it still matters. How many successful people do you know who don’t think it matters anymore what they’re doing? This is all I’ve done with my life since I was 26 years old and it matters to me. So I plan on trying to affect policy. I plan on trying to be, through institutions like the Biden Cancer Initiative, an intellectual force to make cases where I think the country should go.”
The first day and evening of Fortune Brainstorm Health were extraordinary and mind-changing. I will write about it all as soon as I can. Please read Adam Lashinsky's beautiful writeup in Data Sheet. But today’s sessions begin bright and early. (Check out the live stream here.) And with the same hope and humility that Vice President Biden spoke of (and spoke with) last night, I believe they will be even more fulfilling.
This essay appears in today's edition of the Fortune Brainstorm Health Daily. Get it delivered straight to your inbox.