Joe Biden came to the closest thing our nation has to sacred ground. He said he was there not as the leader of “blue” America, but as the President of all Americans, and that while he was there to warn the nation about extremists in the Republican Party, he would welcome civil debate with the majority of Republicans.
In the face of the very clear threat to American democracy posed by the 2020 election deniers — such as Pennsylvania’s GOP nominee for governor, Doug Mastriano — if only the president had meant the unarguably true parts of what he said, what a moment pregnant with the possibility of a national reunion and renewal it might have been, or to which it might have at least contributed.
But the truth of the matter, plain on the face of the text, is that this was a Democratic campaign speech, a gambit aimed to help the president’s party keep its control of Congress in the upcoming midterm elections by changing the subject from how voters feel about the competency of his administration and the cultural direction of the nation on his watch so far, to how Americans feel about Donald Trump (a contest Biden already won).
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Independence Hall and the young Marines standing at attention behind him were just political props, an excruciating usurpation given the purported grand purpose of the speech.
After quite correctly calling out the dangers to democracy represented by the election denialism and associated outrages by Donald Trump and his defenders, but still early in the speech, President Biden said, “MAGA forces are determined to take this country backwards, backwards to an America where there is no right to choose, no right to privacy, no right to contraception, no right to marry who you love.”
There is so much to unpack from this terrible sentence, which first and most singularly blew the potential of the whole address.
The president is equating long-held conservative positions on profound questions of constitutional interpretation and morality with Trumpism and the MAGA movement. This is factually, logically, and morally false.
The pro-life movement, for example, represents a mainstream Republican principle, long pre-dating Donald Trump‘s emergence as a political figure and the accompanying redefinition of the Right which has come in his wake. The same is true for the idea that the definition of rights under the constitution of the United States should be changed only by the amendment process specified in the constitution itself, rather than at the whim of five justices of the Supreme Court.
Not to mention the fact that the last Democratic president, Barack Obama, told America he did not support same-sex marriage for most of his presidency. I suppose in today’s Democratic party, Obama’s prior and long-standing public position on this question was not simply something about which he, along with many millions of other Americans, was persuaded to evolve to see differently, precisely because of the strength of American democracy, but rather means he too was an anti-democratic MAGA extremist.
Preaching these falsehoods gives the lie to President Biden’s mask of moderation and his appeals to supposedly universal American principles.
Most importantly, so does the speech’s epic failure — the framing of the threat to democracy as coming solely from the Right.
[W]hile the Republican Party has been more overtaken by extremism today, there is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, between its regulars and its radicals…
Anyone standing, as President Biden claimed to be, for the enlightenment values on which America was founded, must surely recognize the threat both to the principles of classical liberalism and the institutions created to protect those principles in the operation of power over the people, posed by the illiberal Left, the proponents of the “successor ideology” with its disdain for free speech, and its zero-sum, ends-justify-the-means approach to politics — and even to the legitimacy of political violence — which is just the mirror image of the MAGA Right.
If Biden had meant what he said, he would surely have also said something about this threat, too. He would have said that the “soul of America” is being squeezed in a vice grip of both right- and left-wing extremism. He would have said that while the Republican Party has been more overtaken by extremism today, there is a battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, between its regulars and its radicals — and also within the Democratic-leaning ecosystem outside of government, including in the mainstream media and in our education system at every level — and that this, too, is cancerous extremism posing a profound threat.
He would have said that the two threats feed off each other and that he was there to speak on behalf of the majority of Americans, regardless of whether they consider themselves left or right of center, who have lost faith in the future of our country because of the cultural corrosion and political dysfunction caused by the already raging cold civil war between these parallel, if not identical, perilous factions.
Instead of being a turning point away from the American slide into unbridgeable division and antagonism against one another, the president gave us a Democratic campaign speech, listing what he sees as his legislative achievements, but further debasing the bully pulpit of the presidency, mocking the physical site of the birth of the American idea, and abusing language about that idea which needs to be used with utmost care in order to retain its meaning and impact.
What a shame.
Craig Snyder, a former Chief of Staff to Senator Arlen Specter, is CEO of Indigo Global Corporation and currently serving as Political Director for Republicans4Shapiro.com.