Joe Biden

Biden's Presidential Address Was Actually a Campaign Speech

Plus: Backpage appeal hits the 9th Circuit today, E.U. petition would ban anyone born after 2010 from ever buying nicotine products, and more...


Standing in what looked like some sort of medieval crypt, President Joe Biden last night gave a televised speech on the "battle for the soul of the nation." On one level, it was quite ho-hum—so unrooted in anything of the moment, so lackluster in its delivery, so full of pablum and platitudes that it's easy to wonder what the point of it all was.

But of course, on another level, the point was very clear. Biden's soul of the nation speech was meant to rally people to vote for Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, through a combination of pointing out the things Democrats have (allegedly) done right and, more emphatically, things former President Donald Trump and "MAGA Republicans" have done wrong.

In the speech, Biden repeatedly distinguished mainstream Republicans, who he implied believe in all the good American principles that Democrats do, from MAGA Republicans. MAGA Republicans are the kind of conservatives who "do not respect the Constitution," "do not believe in the rule of law," "do not recognize the will of the people," and "represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic," said Biden. They "refuse to accept the results of a free election," "promote authoritarian leaders," and "fan the flames of political violence." They're "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."

Maybe the distinction was meant as cover against accusations that this was a totally partisan speech. Maybe it was an attempt to welcome "mainstream Republicans" or Republican-leaning independents over to Democrats' side. But Biden's premise here is tragically flawed, because "mainstream" Republicans today are MAGA Republicans. Maybe not quite the caricature of MAGA Republicans that Biden laid out. But Trump fans (with all that entails) are not some fringe. They're at the center of today's Republican Party and account for many of its candidates.

Biden is harking back to an era of "mainstream" Republicanism that no longer exists.

Holding up MAGA Republicans as particularly dangerous is also interesting given all the money Democrats have poured into MAGA Republican primary candidates. Their reasoning here is that it will be easier for Democrats to win in the general election against extremist, conspiracy-promoting GOP candidates than against nice, normie Republicans.

Will it pay off as a political strategy? Maybe. But that doesn't detract from the moral bankruptcy of it—and also undercuts Democratic claims that MAGA Republicans are existentially dangerous to democracy and civilized society. If that were true, wouldn't it be more important to do anything possible to keep them out of office? If that were true, wouldn't boosting them just to better Democrats' midterm election odds be depraved?

There was perhaps a twinge of this convoluted strategy in Biden's soul of the nation speech, which went quite heavy on condemning Trump and Trumpism. Baiting Republicans to vociferously defend Trump, or simply continuing to associate Republicanism and Trumpism in American minds, may benefit Democratic candidates in the midterms when it comes to independent/swing voters, who have been losing love for Trump in the wake of the January 6 hearings.

There's a theory going around that Democrats want to keep focus on Trump—with the January 6 hearings, the Mar-a-Lago raid, etc.—so that he'll decide to run again in 2024, because they believe he'll be easier to beat than someone like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. To be clear, there's no particular evidence for this (and in what world wouldn't Democrats do January 6 hearings, etc., regardless?). But things like Biden's speech last night make it seem not entirely implausible.

In any event, Biden's soul of the nation speech last night was boring and entirely forgettable. But perhaps, in the post-Trump years, boring and totally forgettable isn't something we should take for granted. Boring and forgettable is much better from a president than actively looney tunes and attempting to undermine democratic elections.

But there is a way in which Biden's speech last night echoed Trump speeches: It was not simply a speech for all Americans. It was not designed simply to convey information, celebrate some national win, or reassure Americans in the wake of a disconcerting event. It seemed pretty clearly designed to rally people toward Democrats and against Republicans, just as many Trump speeches were designed to do the opposite. And no matter who's doing it, it's upsetting to see the presidential pulpit used in this way.


Backpage founders Michael Lacey and James Larkin before appeals court. It's been nearly a year since a judge declared a mistrial in the case against Lacey, Larkin, and other former executives of the sex worker–friendly classified ad platform Backpage. U.S. District Judge Susan Brnovich declared the mistrial due to prosecutorial misconduct during the first week of the trial. Lacey and Larkin appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, arguing that retrying them would be an unconstitutional exercise of double jeopardy. A three-judge panel of the court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in this appeal today, beginning at 12 p.m. Eastern Time.


Some in the European Union want to ban anyone born after 2010 from ever buying nicotine products. 


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