Biden’s American carnage speech
by Byron York, Chief Political Correspondent
BIDEN’S AMERICAN CARNAGE SPEECH. Why did President Joe Biden give the speech he gave Thursday night in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia? Was it a 2022 midterm speech? Was it a 2024 presidential campaign speech? Was he preparing the country for the possible arrest of his predecessor, former President Donald Trump? What was he doing?
The address, called the “Red Setting” speech by some for the weird lighting and iconic photo of Biden speaking with fists raised, appears to have been all of the above.
The story behind the speech is the new energy Democrats feel about the coming midterm elections. Once resigned to a huge loss, some Democrats now believe the party has a chance to keep control of the House and Senate. For three reasons: 1) a few signs that inflation, while still historically high, might be easing, 2) their belief that they can successfully use the Supreme Court abortion decision against Republicans, and 3) the rising profile of Trump as a factor in congressional races.
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Biden touched on all three in Philadelphia. No, he did not say the word “inflation.” In fact, he touted his actions, including passing the massive American Rescue Plan, that have actually made inflation worse. But he took credit, lots of credit, for building roads, reducing the price of prescription drugs, promoting green energy, and creating an economy that he said is “stronger than any other advanced nation in the world.”
That was the conventional campaign part of Biden’s speech. Next came the abortion part. And no, Biden did not say the word “abortion.” Instead, in attacking Republicans, he harkened back to one of the ugliest speeches ever given in American politics — the “Robert Bork’s America” speech given by Biden’s old Democratic Senate colleague, Ted Kennedy, in 1987. Back then, Biden and Kennedy were working to block the Supreme Court nomination of Bork. Kennedy’s speech, delivered as Biden looked on, has become legendary for the sheer number of false charges it contained. Here is an excerpt:
Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens…
It would be hard to equal that, but on Thursday in Philadelphia, Biden tried. He was never the speaker that Kennedy was, and now he is old and slow, but he still managed to evoke the spirit of “Robert Bork’s America” when he 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.”
It was an old-fashioned Democratic attack ad. It could have come from 1992. But Biden slapped a MAGA label on it and tied it to Trump, even though the issues had been litigated long before Trump ran for president.
The true darkness in Biden’s speech came in his long attacks on Trump and Trump’s supporters, whom he sometimes called “MAGA Republicans” and sometimes called “extreme MAGA Republicans.” In all, the acronym appeared in Biden’s speech 13 times.
“MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution,” Biden said. “They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself. … They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.”
“MAGA Republicans look at America and see carnage and darkness and despair,” Biden added, making reference to Trump’s famous reference to “American carnage” in his 2017 inaugural address. Now, it appears Biden sees just as much darkness.
A few days ago, Biden referred to the beliefs of “MAGA Republicans” as “semi-fascism.” Biden did not use the f-word Thursday night, but that is clearly what he meant. What was not entirely clear was how many people he believes fit the profile of “extreme MAGA.” Is it just a few loyalists around Trump? Is it all 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020?
Biden appeared to suggest that the answer is closer to the latter than the former. “I want to be very clear upfront,” he said. “Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology. I know because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans. But there is 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.”
Who are those mainstream Republicans? Well, certainly Biden would include GOP Trump antagonists Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger in the House. He would also include the Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment and who also, several of them, voted for a few bipartisan measures that Biden has championed. Still, there seems little doubt that Biden believes millions of people are semi-fascists and represent a threat to the nation.
Remember that Biden called the successful Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, Glenn Youngkin, an extremist along the lines of the Jan. 6 rioters. “Extremism can come in many forms,” Biden said last October. “It can come in the rage of a mob driven to assault the Capitol. It can come in a smile and a fleece vest. Either way, the Big Lie is still a big lie.” Youngkin had made a fleece vest a trademark as he campaigned. When it comes to defining “extreme MAGA Republicans,” Biden casts a very wide net.
Democrats are said to be happy that Trump’s profile, always high, has risen even higher as the midterm campaign gets underway in earnest. And how has that happened? It happened after Biden’s Justice Department opened a criminal investigation of the former president and executed a search warrant on Trump’s winter home in early August. So Biden’s administration, as well as the Democrats who created the Jan. 6 committee, just happen to be helping create political circumstances that Democrats see as favorable to their chances in November. And the more Biden and his party seek to demonize Trump and his followers, the more they prepare the country for the possibility that the Justice Department will charge Trump with a crime in the documents investigation.
On Friday, back at the White House, Biden tried to walk back some of the rhetoric he had used the night before. When asked by Fox News’s Peter Doocy whether he considered all Trump supporters a threat to the country, Biden said, “I don’t consider any Trump supporters a threat to the country.”
Given what Biden said in Philadelphia, that is simply impossible to believe. How could he mean what he said at Independence Hall and not consider any Trump supporters a threat to the country? Not possible. Then Biden continued: “When people voted for Donald Trump and support him now, they weren’t voting for attacking the Capitol. They weren’t voting for overturning an election. They were voting for a philosophy he put forward. I am not talking about anything other than, it is inappropriate … the failure to recognize and condemn violence when it is used for political purposes, failure to condemn the manipulation [of] election outcomes.”
Huh? Biden’s remarks at the White House cast a cloud of confusion over what he said the night before. Did he mean it? Did he fully understand the kind of accusations he was making in Philadelphia? Was he confused? The president’s rhetoric was terribly serious and terribly divisive. It was hard to understand why he even gave the speech. Now, it is not clear whether he understands it, either.