Biden’s Atlanta Speech: Divisive and Hyperbolic

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I confess that sometimes it’s not easy for me to watch Joe Biden speak. His pseudo-self-righteousness grates on me. His pretended concern about all Americans and protecting their rights rings hollow in my ears when I know that he cares nothing for protecting the basic right to life of the unborn and is willing to sue Catholic nuns to force them to pay for abortions, as he demands all of us do. The gaffes (“President Harris”) and lies (“It seems like yesterday the first time I got arrested…” there is no record of Biden ever having been arrested, least of all for protesting for civil rights) are growing tiresome, if not worrisome.

Biden’s Atlanta speech on voting rights began with a stereotypical trope: there are events in history that “stop time,” that mark the age before they occurred and the age after. Sheesh! To how many events has that trope been applied? Of course, he was talking about January 6, 2021, a genuinely ominous day in U. S. history, though one that could have been avoided had authorities responded properly to the intelligence they had. The Democrats are hoping to turn January 6 into another Pearl Harbor or 9/11. So far, I don’t think the American people are buying it, but given the disaster that has been the first year of the Biden administration, it may be all the Dems have to run on for the midterms.

Biden repeated his previous critiques about the Georgia state legislature’s passing of voting reforms after the 2020 election. He said that the Republicans wanted to get rid of drop boxes. No. The law that allowed for drop boxes to accommodate voters concerned about going to the polls during the pandemic was going to expire, and so would the drop boxes. The new legislation actually preserved the drop boxes, though it did provide for not as many. Biden insisted that the Republicans wanted to restrict mail-in voting. The new voting laws require that you request a mail-in ballot, and that you have a reason for doing so, rather than the Democrat preference of mailing a ballot to everybody, regardless of their having requested one or not. It does decrease the number of weeks you have to make a request for a mail-in ballot. He complained about how this will make for long lines but failed to mention the provision the law puts in place to increase polling places if the wait to vote is over an hour. Finally, Biden repeated what he must now know is false, that it is illegal for anyone to provide voters in line with food or water. Neither did Biden mention what has been pointed out by critics, that the rules for voting in his home state of Delaware and other “blue” states are stricter than the new voting laws in Georgia.

Biden referred to Georgia and other states passing new voting laws as “Jim Crow 2.0” which, in my mind, is an insult to those who suffered through the Jim Crow era in the South. He mentioned the past support among Republicans for renewing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, emphasizing that even Republican Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina voted to renew the Act, contrasting that with the fact that Thurmond holds the record for a Senate filibuster, speaking for over 24 hours against the Civil Rights Act of 1957. He didn’t mention that, in 1957, Thurmond was a Democrat.

But the topping on the cake, the money quote in Biden’s performance was this: “So I ask every elected official in America, how do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

This is where Biden’s critics, and even some of his allies, think he went too far in his rhetoric. To suggest that those who oppose federal control of elections, which is what the Democrats demand in their voting rights agenda, or that those who oppose doing away with the filibuster, just as the Democrats opposed doing away with the filibuster when they were in the minority, are the moral equivalents of George Wallace, Bull Connor, and Jefferson Davis is divisive, hyperbolic, and really beyond the pale. Mitch McConnell said that Biden’s remarks were “unpresidential.” Well, in this rare circumstance, I agree with McConnell.

Why? Well, for those who don’t know their history, George Wallace, a Democrat, was the governor who stood at the entrance of the University of Alabama in a failed attempt to prevent the admittance of Black students, and announced, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” Bull Connor, a Democrat, was the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama who set the dogs and water hoses on Black protesters in that city. Jefferson Davis, a Democrat, was the President of the Confederate States of America. (An interesting sidenote: In 1977, Biden voted in favor of restoring Davis’ U. S. citizenship, of which he had been stripped as a traitor to his nation). Biden is saying, support our efforts to federalize elections, or you are the moral equivalent of one who supports segregation, supports violent action against civil rights protesters, and are a traitor to your nation!

I think Joe Biden just lost the effort to pass the Democrat’s voting rights agenda. He basically told his political opponents, including those Americans who just don’t like his policies, that they’re racists and traitors. Not exactly a coalition-building move on Joe’s part. Perhaps he was caught up in the moment. Perhaps he was emotional after visiting MLK’s family, his tomb, and Ebenezer Baptist, where King preached. I’ve been there. It can be overwhelming to think about the history and the suffering represented by that place. I can only hope that Biden’s aligning those opposed to federalizing elections with violent segregationists and traitors was not part of his prepared script. If so, what idiot gave the okay on that? Regardless, ultimately Biden is the one responsible for his divisive language. The man who ran on the promise, and great need, for restoring unity has done everything to worsen the divide among the American people from his first day in office.

There are some parts of the Democrat’s voting rights agenda that make sense to me, such as restoring the right to vote to felons who have served their time, and creating independent panels to re-draw districts to avoid gerrymandering. Other ideas make no sense to me, like same-day registration, ballot harvesting, mailing ballots to everyone, or doing away with voter ID requirements. I especially don’t like the idea of federalizing elections. There’s a reason the Founders gave control of elections to each state, besides the fact that our nation is a union of states, and that was to secure elections against the power of a central government and whatever faction happened to be in control of the central government. There have certainly been problems with state-controlled elections, and the federal government has had to step in to correct those. Fine. But the same problems with state-controlled elections can be present with federal-controlled elections, only with fewer protections because the federal government can demand the same rules for every state, regardless of the individual needs of each, making it easier for one-party control of an entire national election. If the party that controls Congress can dictate how the entire country must vote, it can more easily manipulate the outcome of any particular election. Who wants that?

Finally, if Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer and the other Democrats think killing the filibuster is such a good idea when they’re in the majority, do they think for one second the Republicans will not turn it against them when they win the majority? Are they crazy? Most political analysts expect the Republicans to regain control of both the Senate and the House in the midterms. The Democrats are setting themselves up for suffering a fierce retaliation if the Republicans do so.

This is all politics at its worst. As Biden said during his speech, the purpose of the filibuster is to inspire bipartisan compromise, the give and take of a legislature that ensures no one party gets everything it demands, and that the minority party still has some say in governing. Instead of working with the minority and forging a bill both sides can vote for, the Democrats are employing the tactics of school-yard frustration: when you find yourself losing the game, demand a change in the rules that favors your team. Surely an august institution like the United States Senate can do better.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

 

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