POLITICS & POLICY
Biden’s Disastrous Georgia Speech Threw Away His Last Chance to Start Anew
By DAN MCLAUGHLIN
January 14, 2022 9:47 AM
President Joe Biden delivers remarks in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., January 7, 2022. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Biden’s speech on Tuesday had a galvanizing effect — on conservatives. Jonah Goldberg has a lengthy dismantling of the speech’s lies:
To listen to Biden, Kamala Harris, Chuck Schumer, most Democrats, and a whole bunch of journalists, what changed was an existential threat to democracy. “Voter suppression” is a plague sweeping across the land that literally threatens to end democracy in America. Biden & Co. base this grave appraisal on three distinct claims. The first is that there has been an epidemic of laws “making it harder to vote.” The second is that Georgia is at the bleeding edge of this effort with voter suppression laws so heinous that they, by themselves, represent “Jim Crow 2.0.” Last is that Trump loyalists are in the process of rigging the 2024 presidential election by preparing an end run on legitimate vote counts. So, here’s my grading of these claims: The first is very, very weak. The second is shameful, demagogic, ahistorical garbage. The third is incomplete.
Nobody—including Joe Biden—has been able to point to a single example of a law that comes within miles of Jim Crow restrictions. If they had such an example, you can be sure they wouldn’t be keeping it secret. Consider voter ID laws, which are constantly cited as part of this racist, undemocratic tsunami. Tightening voter ID laws may or may not be a good idea. Personally, I think they’re fine in principle. But let’s concede that they’re bad. You know who else thinks they’re fine? A very large majority of Americans, including a majority of black Americans. A Monmouth poll this year found that 80 percent of Americans support voter ID requirements and only 18 percent oppose them. That’s not a new finding. In 2016, Gallup also found that 4 in 5 Americans support voter ID requirements, including 77 percent of nonwhite voters. Again, are the majority of Americans siding with Jefferson Davis? Really?
Peggy Noonan on the speech’s shameful and counterproductive tone:
The speech itself was aggressive, intemperate, not only offensive but meant to offend. It seemed prepared by people who think there is only the Democratic Party in America, that’s it, everyone else is an outsider who can be disparaged. It was a mistake on so many levels. Presidents more than others in politics have to maintain an even strain, as astronauts used to say. If a president is rhetorically manipulative and divisive on a voting-rights bill it undercuts what he’s trying to establish the next day on Covid and the economy. The over-the-top language of the speech made him seem more emotional, less competent. . . . By the end he looked like a man operating apart from the American conversation, not at its center. This can be fatal to a presidency. . . . If a speech can be full of itself this speech was.
When national Democrats talk to the country they always seem to be talking to themselves. They are of the left, as is their constituency, which wins the popular vote in presidential elections; the mainstream media through which they send their messages is of the left; the academics, historians and professionals they consult are of the left. They get in the habit of talking to themselves, in their language, in a single, looped conversation. They have no idea how they sound to the non-left, so they have no idea when they are damaging themselves. But this week in Georgia Mr. Biden damaged himself. And strengthened, and may even have taken a step in unifying, the non-Democrats who are among their countrymen, and who are in fact the majority of them.
Noonan cites Mitch McConnell’s more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone in responding to Biden:
“I have known, liked and personally respected Joe Biden for many years. I did not recognize the man at the podium yesterday.” Mr. Biden had entered office calling on Americans to stop the shouting and lower the temperature. “Yesterday, he called millions of Americans his domestic ‘enemies.’ ” That, a week after he “gave a January 6th lecture about not stoking political violence.” “Twelve months ago, this president said that ‘disagreement must not lead to disunion.’ But yesterday, he invoked the bloody disunion of the Civil War to demonize Americans who disagree with him. He compared a bipartisan majority of senators to literal traitors.” “Twelve months ago, the president said that ‘politics need not be a raging fire destroying everything in its path.’ . . . Yesterday he poured a giant can of gasoline on that fire.” “In less than a year, ‘restoring the soul of America’ has become: Agree with me, or you’re a bigot.”
For a certain stripe of hardened partisan or ideologue on the right or the left, McConnell’s speech drew mockery, as did the criticism from Goldberg and Noonan. What, those on the right asked, you didn’t know that Joe Biden has always been a shallow, deceitful demagogue? What, those on the left asked, Mitch McConnell is lecturing us about partisan hardball? But this misses the point. McConnell is right that a lot of the voters chose Biden mainly because they were exhausted with the constant storm of division and escalation coming from Donald Trump. They knew Biden as a guy who’d been around Washington, a man so known for his senatorial bonhomie that he’d had to spend a chunk of the primary explaining away his extensive friendships with actual segregationist senators. The American people can be remarkably, sometimes infuriatingly, forgiving of their leaders. Biden’s high approval ratings for the first seven months of his term reflected the fact that the public was ready to give him a chance to be the man he pretended to be. Stranger things have happened to new presidents: Machine politician Chester Arthur became a civil-service reformer. Trump became, in practice, a dedicated pro-lifer. Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson became civil-rights fighters. If Biden had actually maintained the tone, posture, and agenda of a man focused upon cooling the nation’s overheated political discourse, there were plenty of people willing to take that at face value and forget his pre-presidential career.
He just finished throwing that all away. It’s too late now; he can’t take it back.
The speech sounded like something the VP would say and not Biden.