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Two Cheers for Biden’s Philadelphia Speech

Last night, President Joe Biden addressed the nation from Philadelphia to warn the American people about the dangerous rise in American authoritarianism. The president rightly sounded the alarm on the threat to democracy from the Trumpenproletariat. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop there. Thus, what could have been a perfect clarion call to pro-democracy Americans everywhere devolved into a still-good speech with some problematic off-notes.

Starting with the good, Biden specified just what the problem is (Shannon Pettypiece, NBC News [1]):

“Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans,” Biden said. “But there’s no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country.”

“For a long time, we’ve reassured ourselves that American democracy is guaranteed. But it is not. We have to defend it. Protect it. Stand up for it. Each and every one of us,” Biden said.

This has it exactly, if painfully, correct – especially the “intimidated” part. I’ve spent the last seven years watching political associates and long-time friends cave to this, either with full Trumpism or pusillanimous anti-anti-Trumpism. We’ve all seen and heard Republicans champion Trump in public while ridiculing him in private [2]. Biden was exactly right to call it as he (rightly) sees it.

But he also strayed off topic, leading us to the bad (via Amber Phillips in the WaPo [3]):

He went on to tie what he called “MAGA Republicans” to many GOP state legislatures’ unpopular abortion bans, as well as to the most conservative Supreme Court justice, Clarence Thomas, who suggested in his recent abortion opinion that the court could roll back same-sex marriage rights.

“MAGA Republicans want to take America 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,” Biden said.

Other aspects of the speech promoted a pro-Democrat (and not just generally pro-democracy) message: Toward the end of his address, Biden also championed his recent legislative wins.

Now, the number of pro-democracy social conservatives in America is relatively small, but it isn’t zero. Biden is trying to put together a broad anti-Trump coalition. That’ll be harder if he keeps giving the political Heisman maneuver to folks like David French, Michael Gerson, or even our own Kristina Nohe [4].

Also, I’m pretty sure the Marines stationed behind Biden were there for Independence Hall, but the optics were … suboptimal.

Still, the pro-democracy parts of the speech were on point, giving us the pretty: “We can’t be pro-insurrectionist and pro-American. They’re incompatible.”

Indeed, they are.