As what, then? Iguanas? Let’s go back to the speech Joe Biden gave in Atlanta on Tuesday, the demagogic meltdown from which even Dick Durbin distanced himself. The same speech, in fact, that produced an avalanche of criticism about which Jen Psaki called “hilarious” just 48 hours prior to this new spin. This is what Biden actually said, according to the White House transcript:
So, I ask every elected official in America: How do you want to be remembered?
At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be the si- — 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?
That language unmistakably accuses opponents of Biden’s bill to have taken the side of a traitor to the US (Davis) and brutal segregationists (Connor and Wallace, the latter who later recanted). That poisonous demagoguery cares not a whit for principled opposition to Congress overreaching its constitutional authority on state elections, for attacks on very popular voter-ID policies that have majority support even among black and Hispanic voters, and for the absurd 6:1 public-match funding of congressional campaigns. Biden painted his opposition as traitors and racists using the crudest form of demagoguery possible in one of the worst presidential speeches of modern times.
On Wednesday, Psaki tried playing the Trump card in accusing critics of “hilarious” hypocrisy. On Thursday, Psaki again tried to deflect criticism by slamming Mitt Romney for criticizing Biden’s “objective true statements.” After watching Durbin and other Democrats distance themselves from Biden’s stench, however, Psaki suddenly began singing a different tune yesterday. Politicians who oppose Biden aren’t Jefferson Davis or Bull Connor — their choices are, or something:
The comparison generated some blowback afterward, but press secretary Jen Psaki said Biden was not drawing a personal link between current lawmakers and notorious southern segregationists and the president of the Confederacy.
“I think everybody listening to that speech who’s speaking on the level, as my mother would say, would note that he was not comparing them as humans, he was comparing the choice to those figures in history and where they’re going to position themselves as they determine whether they’re going to support the fundamental right to vote or not,” she said Friday.
So Republicans, Manchin, and Sinema aren’t racist traitors, but they’re siding with racist traitors? They’re choosing policies that racists and traitors support, but not “as humans”? Huh?
No, I think everyone who listened to that speech understood that Biden intended precisely to cast his opponents as racists and traitors, and expected his audience to agree. Biden pulled the same stunt with Romney in the 2012 campaign when he told black voters at a campaign event that Romney would “put y’all back in chains.” In fact, the spin after that ghastly bit of demagoguery sounds almost identical to Psaki’s attempt to retreat yesterday:
An Obama campaign official tells ABC News that “as the full quote makes obvious, the Vice President was clearly using a metaphor to describe the devastating impact of deregulating Wall Street and the financial industry, as well as how Governor Romney’s policies would take us back to the same failed formula that led to the 2008 financial crisis – the same failed formula that benefitted a few, but crashed our economy and hurt the middle class.”
Biden made the same accusation then as he did now, telling black voters that Republicans are racists who want to re-enslave black people. It didn’t go down well in 2012, and it went down even worse this week without the context of a presidential campaign to keep Democrats from abandoning Biden over it. It’s an ugly, despicable, disgraceful moment from a sitting president who’s racking up such moments at a record pace in his first year. Amazingly, Biden’s White House took almost three days to realize it.
That’s not the only reason Biden’s week was a “disaster,” as Michael Smerconish put it on CNN today. Smerconish puts that demagogic speech up first in this review, and that “unforced error” certainly is one of the more significant:
“The President's week was a disaster,” @smerconish says.
“[But] what matters to the American public is the economy. … The President's unforced errors may be forgotten, and people may again vote with their wallets. But for right now, his mistakes and the pandemic loom large.” pic.twitter.com/5kpvJIpK9m
— CNN (@CNN) January 15, 2022