When I heard a few days ago that President Joe Biden was going to address Independence Hall on “the ongoing battle for the soul of the nation,” I was intrigued.
After all, a new Quinnipiac poll recently found that 67 percent of Americans believe democracy may collapse. As I wrote a few months ago, “It feels like the country is falling apart and we are not united in a common purpose. Just as an individual’s deep-seated psychological and spiritual needs (like meaning and belonging) are fundamental (once their basic needs are met), the same is true at the national level.”
In anticipation of Biden’s “soul” speech, images of former President Jimmy Carter’s so-called “malaise” speech immediately came to mind. Carter was spot on about a “crisis of confidence … that strikes at the heart, soul and spirit of our national will.” That crisis swept America in the 1970s, but no one wanted to hear the President acknowledge this grim if honest reality.
Would Biden make the same mistake?
But then something interesting happened as Biden’s big prime-time speech drew near and details about the speech leaked out: The headlines took on a more political tone, warning us that “Trumpism threatens democracy.”
And that’s when it became clear that Biden’s speech would always be about “November’s Midterms,” not “America’s soul.” Instead of being a speech it was Above politics, it would be a speech that was around Politics.
Do not get me wrong. I fully agree that Trump and the MAGA movement are threats to democracy, that normalizing political violence is an existential challenge for this country, that voting denial is poison, that America is valuable and worth preserving, and that the rule of law is under attack. But by taking his speech beyond these issues, the President missed an opportunity to emphasize these points in a way that was beyond reproach.
First, Biden conflated some conservative positions with illiberal attempts to destroy the nation. He spoke about how “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards,” but then hastened to add, “Backward to an America where there is no right to choose…”
For Biden’s base, that line likely sounds like music to their ears. But I am someone who is both pro-democracy and pro-life. Wouldn’t a leader who genuinely cares about preserving democracy want the broadest possible coalition? And wouldn’t that include allies in this cause who happen to support the right to life? Apparently not.
Biden also warned that America was going backwards to an America where “there is no right to marry who you love.” Going back to what was seven years ago — before the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the country — could very well be a step in the wrong direction, but what does that have to do with Trumpism — let alone the collapse of democracy and MAGA conservatives mocking that the rule of law applies to Trump too?
I don’t want to confuse causality with correlation, but wasn’t democracy in a better position in 2015?
It does not matter. These progressive culture war issues — abortion and gay marriage — were included in the speech not because they have much to do with Trump and his MAGA movement’s attacks on democracy, but because they have everything to do with inflaming the Democratic base .
“Instead of being a speech that was above politics, it would be a speech that was about politics.”
And it didn’t end there.
Hell, at some point Biden started talking about high-speed internet and a “clean energy future.” He somehow managed to move from Jeremiad to State of the Union.
The second and more fundamental problem was that Biden was crafting a prime-time speech centered on an issue (Trumpism) that will politically benefit him and his party. Although I agreed with much of what he had to say, his ulterior motives undermined his primary message. You can’t say, “I’m going to give a heartfelt speech about America’s soul … and while I’m there, I’m going to score some rad political points.” His call to action at the end of the speech, “VOTE, VOTE, VOTE,” betrayed his purpose .
Thursday night’s speech was clearly a part of promoting a political narrative. It’s part of a pattern of Biden trying to mobilize his base — like last week’s labeling of MAGA as a “semi-fascist movement” and his decision to scrap student loan debt.
I remember a recent one Tweet by conservative commentator Ben Shapiro: “There’s a reason Democrats are keen to keep Trump at the center of the conversation: Half of independents say Trump is a major factor in their vote, and they break 4-1 for the Democrats. Republicans shouldn’t be playing this game. If you do that, you’re driving because of a contusion.”
When the election is about Trump, the Democrats win (the same is not true when the focus is on inflation, for example). So Biden is doing it over Trump.
That’s not to say that Trump and his MAGA movement can be ignored, but there are other people who can and should throw those elbows. Wouldn’t it be better for a President to take a more grandfatherly stance and talk about the importance of reaching down the aisle, coming together as a nation, stopping political violence and ending the cycle that poisons politics?
He could have given an inspirational speech about protecting this miracle of liberal democracy and preserving the rule of law. Trust me, anyone would see the contrast. Instead of talking about healing America, he might model it. Instead of collecting political points, he was able to overcome bitterness.
Instead, he hit rewind on his outdated VCR and gave us an old, tired rerun. He gave us a political speech shortly before an election.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/bidens-soul-of-america-speech-was-just-a-democratic-campaign-ad?source=articles&via=rss Biden’s “Soul of America” speech was just a Democratic campaign advertisement