In the short history of the Biden presidency, last Tuesday will go down as a major turning point – downward. For numbers freaks, you can remember the date as 11122, January 11th 2022. That’s when Joe Biden gave in to his handlers, speechwriters and political consultants and decided to embrace brazen demagoguery in his Atlanta speech on so-called Voting Rights. The man who less than one year earlier had promised that his Presidency would be one of healing and coming together called anyone who opposed him racists, seditionists and traitors. I am convinced that the speech will backfire badly, and not only lose him the prospect of compromise but also trigger defections from his own ranks from those who can clearly see what the poor President cannot: that his descent into demagoguery will be toxic and win him no transformative legislation in Congress. In short, it’s the day that he abandoned the positive rhetoric of his inaugural speech and embraced a type of speech that, in the words of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, was “incoherent, incorrect, beneath his office” and “profoundly unpresidential.”
The ostensible subject of his speech was the stalled federalization of our national voting system. As proposed legislation, it is flawed and objectionable, but the speech had little to do with the bill’s actual policy content. Unfortunately, neither did most of the subsequent speeches and opinion pieces from Republican Senators or conservative, constitutional policy shops and think tanks. Most of them fell into the trap of responding to Biden’s demagoguery with only slightly toned-down demagoguery of their own, or unpersuasive wonky defense of arcane Senate rules.
The Biden of 36 years in the Senate, 8 years in the Vice Presidency, a year of Presidential campaigning and a well-received inaugural speech less than a year ago relinquished his principles in Atlanta on Tuesday and in the process lost the moderate center of American politics, without which he cannot lead. He could have attempted to maximize the value of his time in the bully pulpit of the Presidency, to persuade the American people why they should support the stalled legislation.
Had he mentioned specifics, rather than vilifying his opponents and disparaging the Senate filibuster that he long supported as “Jim Crow 2.0,” he might have made some converts. Ronald Reagan used televised Presidential speeches as opportunities to speak directly to the American people and to persuade them of the common sense of his proposed policies or actions. Biden saw Reagan exploit the opportunities and achieve legislative success with a much smaller base of Congressional support.
Biden wasted this opportunity.
So did many of the Republicans and a wide swath of opinion writers responding to the president. They decried Biden’s hateful demagoguery but said little about the actual proposals. There is plenty that’s wrong in the bill that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has pledged to put on the Senate floor on Martin Luther King Day.
It gives virtual veto power to potentially partisan bureaucrats in the Justice Department to overrule states who pass voting reforms that they don’t like. It restricts states from cleaning up their voter rolls by purging records of those who have died or moved. It mandates same-day voter registration which is a wide-open door to facilitating voting by non-citizens. It also mandates automatic voter registration via the driver’s license registration process at state motor vehicle offices, opening the door to register as voters huge numbers of legal drivers who are not legal citizens. It would force states to redistrict along standards that would favor urban areas, thereby giving an enduring advantage to Democrats in drawing Congressional districts. It would restore voting rights to felons upon their completion of their sentences, which has been so long-opposed by Republicans that it will result in the strong likelihood that felons would favor the Democratic party if allowed to regain their vote.
Republicans, conservatives, and Constitutionalists should focus on these objectionable elements of the proposed voting revision bills, rather than making obscure procedural arguments in support of the filibuster and ceding the policy ground to Democrats.
A total reset may still happen if President Biden’s bumbling political miscalculation in adopting anger and demagoguery over reasoned persuasion last Tuesday has the effect of killing the proposed bills. That would wipe the slate clean for another pass, one that should be crafted in the spirit of bipartisanship. And that would be a good thing for the country.