Joe Biden’s deservedly maligned speech on voting rights (more aptly described as grotesque racial demagoguery) contained this passage from the Bible (Amos 5:15), which he quoted twice. I add the unstated part of the biblical passage in italics. “Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate [that is, in the courts]; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.”
Even before this speech, Joseph Biden destroyed whatever remnant of grace he sought from his opponents, independents, and even some partisan supporters. The Atlanta bluster could not have gratified black supporters, especially those among the student audience. Who wants to be fawned over by such a lout? Having their hair sniffed by the old man would have been less of an ordeal.
In fact, the only surprising thing about the Biden rant is that sophisticated political observers thought it was surprising, merely a terrible blunder. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared he “did not recognize the man at the podium.” The columnist and former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan seemed astonished at Biden’s political ineptitude, the repudiation of his promise to unite the country, dissolving into caricatures of his opponents.
The Biden speech is one no president should give, they, and the whole establishment punditry, agreed.
Biden’s Racial Fanaticism
Only the most rabid partisans would not object to tropes such as this: “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?” If you object to Biden’s claim he’s the one best protecting basic rights, you hate America so much you want to destroy it?
But such establishment figures should have known that the demagogue we saw in Atlanta is the same Joe Biden who has acted this way for decades—and advanced politically. Over 30 years ago he assailed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork and facilitated the attacks on Clarence Thomas when they appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee he chaired. More recently, in his 2012 campaign for the vice presidency, he told a black audience that the party of Mitt Romney wanted to put blacks “back in chains.” Biden, who once stood up to Corn Pop, can’t see that he’s insulting the intelligence of blacks and other Americans by making such outrageous claims and accusations.
More recently, we saw this racial fanaticism at work in his denunciation of President Trump’s travel ban on flights from China at the beginning of the pandemic as racist, in his notorious “you ain’t black” charge against blacks who might vote Republican, and his reckless allegation of “systemic racism.”
Most tellingly of all, during his fake 2020 campaign for the presidency, Biden declared flat-out his demand for “racial equality, equity across the board,” noting, “[t]he country’s ready—and if they’re not, it doesn’t matter . . . .” But few took seriously his important speech in Kenosha, Wisconsin on race. (During his visit Biden slandered the hero of Kenosha, Kyle Rittenhouse, as a “white supremacist.”) Biden reiterated those same themes in his inaugural address and subsequent executive orders.
Biden’s strategic replacement of equality with equity signifies a major shift in the way Biden and his handlers believe Americans are supposed to think of their political heritage. From now on, America is about race, not about freedom and the pursuit of happiness—about where we’ve been, not where we’re going. In the Biden/1619 Project view of things, to be American is to suffer from consciousness of white privilege or to feel the injustice of slavery and discrimination. Acknowledged achievement or human excellence cannot exist in such a divided society, falsely defined by racial conflict.
The Old Playbook
The Biden demagoguery has a logic; it is not mere political opportunism. It is far more dangerous than that. By declaring “unity” his goal and “truth” his defense, he can label his opponents liars and threats to democracy. These threats constitute the “domestic terrorism” he denounces, along with “political extremism” and “white supremacy.” But we must not ascribe any originality to Biden, who, after all, has been a notorious plagiarizer.
For this all comes from the Democratic Party playbook: Call the Republicans fascists.
This was the ploy of those who hailed Democratic Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. In his 1944 State of the Union Address, while Americans (including many Republicans) were dying to free the world of fascism, Roosevelt compared Republicans of the 1920s to those fascists. See the sixth paragraph from the end of that speech, better known for its declaration of an “economic bill of rights.” The “spirit of Fascism here at home” lurks in the hearts of his Republican opponents, according to FDR.
Though hailed as a great president for his anti-Soviet foreign policy achievements, Harry Truman was one of the worst demagogues to occupy the White House.
As his October 25, 1948 speech in Chicago makes plain, he only escalated FDR’s rhetoric and denounced Republicans as a party fronting for fascists, racists, and haters of Jews and Catholics. What “happened in Germany 15 years ago . . . could happen here . . . if the antidemocratic forces in this country continue to work unchecked, this Nation could awaken a few years from now to find that the Bill of Rights had become a scrap of paper.” As political scientist Andrew Busch notes, Trumam’s Republican opponent didn’t respond to these outrages, fearing growing divisions would endanger his lead in the polls and create an issue for Truman. We should remember that Truman instead won that campaign and became hailed as the feisty candidate of the people who beat the pollsters—not as the ruthless demagogue he really was.
The Party of White Self-Hatred
The world’s oldest political party was founded by Thomas Jefferson to protect the natural rights described in the Declaration of Independence but was compromised by its defenses of slavery that became increasingly about race and white supremacy. This 19th century party, known as “the Democracy,” became in the late 20th century the party of white self-hatred. Today the only whites allowed to call themselves Democrats are those who admit and renounce their “white privilege.” The great American historian Henry Adams observed the post-Civil War developments and described the practice of politics as the “systematic organization of hatreds.”
But this description of Democratic Party politics misses the importance of trust and ultimately the notion of a transcendent purpose—in the American case, the recovery of the principles of the Declaration of Independence. With his replacement of equality with “equity” Biden has dealt this purpose a blow that would sever his party from the Declaration. When the hatreds demand self-hatred, the political burden becomes impossible and the party breaks down, as we see happening now with the Democrats. Even Biden’s plagiarism of greater Democrat presidents may not save him and his party.
Unfortunately, the Republican Party has a history that would redeem it as the party the Democrats might have been, but they are ignorant of it and don’t know how to defend equality, which they have mistaken for socialism. Republican Party wisdom began with Abraham Lincoln’s defense of equality and its denial in slavery, whose principle was “You work, and I eat.” It is a shame that so many Republicans fail to see that such a pro-slavery mentality exists today in the party of self-hating whites.
It is hard to tell which party is in worse shape. One may be more worthy of defeat than the other, but worthy to unite and guide is another question. Until we find political leaders who appreciate the vitality of the political heritage they have repudiated or ignored, the politics of “systematic organization of hatreds” is all we will see.