President Joe Biden delivered a speech from Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania last night. The nationally televised speech, which took place right before Labor Day, kicks off election season. The speech was unofficially known as the “Battle for the Soul of the Nation” speech. As The New York Times noted in its first takeaway of the speech: “It’s still about Trump.”
“Sure, Mr. Biden rattled off the accomplishments of his first year and a half in office,” The NYT began. “But in his address to the nation, Mr. Biden tacitly acknowledged that his predecessor still looms over the politics of the moment, like it or not.” And that’s exactly right. Trump still has sway over the Republican party, yes.
Joe Biden pointed out as much in his speech: “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.” But Biden failed to mention that much of Trump’s “centralness” to national politics is owed to the Democrats – to their ongoing fixation with the former president, and for the vigor with which they have spent the last several years denouncing the former president. Democrats deserve at least a portion of the credit for making Trump this martyr of the alt-right.
Speaking to the Soul of the Nation
“Mr. Biden’s speech was all about making the choice this Election Day between what he called ‘the light of truth’ and ‘the shadow of lies,’” the NYT reported. For Biden to frame the upcoming midterms as a choice between good and evil may make sense as far as rallying Democratic support in November. But the continued emphasis on Trump ensures that Trump remains relevant, it ensures that his base rallies to his support. It keeps Trump central, preventing the former president from fading away like all other former presidents before him.
With respect to Trump, Democrats have this self-fulfilling prophecy where in talking about how threatening and important Trump is – he becomes more threatening and more important. The ongoing fixation with Trump is not just rhetorical; the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence last month, in support of an ongoing criminal investigation, further ensuring Trump’s continued relevance. “Too much of what’s happening in our country today is not normal. Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic,” the president said.
Joe Biden’s speech last night was a calculated gambit to reverse perceptions that the president is an old man, with low energy, in decline. “Republicans have caricatured the president as a doddering old man, unable to assemble a string of coherent sentences,” The NYT reported. “Rather than let such aspersions go unchallenged, the White House moved to dispel them with a forceful speech that would, if nothing else, rally the Democratic base.”
The speech could help in the short term but the simple fact is that the president is pushing eighty years old. A second term would take Joe Biden to his 86th birthday, assuming he lives long enough. The Republican caricature of Biden has a bit of truth to it, despite the president’s ability to give a forceful speech. But again, the main point of the speech, like seemingly most DNC political moves for the last several years, was first and foremost about Trump.
“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,” Biden said in his speech. Biden is, of course, referencing the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, which makes sense: the ruling was intensely unpopular. Democrats have even experienced a boost from the ruling as citizens flock to protect their abortion rights and could use the ruling to retain seats in Congress this fall.
Joe Biden’s speech seems to have been received as expected: despised on the right, accepted on the left. Biden’s approval ratings have been climbing lately. We’ll know in the next few days whether he made any headway with his speech. Expect some sort of retort from Trump.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.