THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 8, 2022
But also, one fleeting disclaimer: It started on Thursday, August 25.
On that date, President Biden introduced his current, ongoing rhetorical campaign against "Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans."
President Biden named one person that day; he named Donald J. Trump. But who else was he talking about? In a public address in Maryland, he painted a remarkable picture of who these extreme people are.
According to President Biden, these extreme MAGA Republicans "have made their choice." They've chosen "to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate, and division."
They aren't "real Republicans," the president said. Beyond that, he said he didn't "respect these MAGA Republicans."
As he continued, it became obvious why he wouldn't respect these unnamed, unidentified people. As he ended his speech, the American president said this:
BIDEN (8/25/22): I’ll close with this: We’re at a serious moment in our nation’s history.
The MAGA Republicans don’t just threaten our personal rights and economic security, they’re a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people. They embrace—embrace!—political violence. They don’t believe in democracy.
This is why, in this moment, those of you who love this country— Democrats, independents, mainstream Republicans—we must be stronger, more determined, and more committed to saving America than the MAGA Republicans are to destroying America.
The president was talking about a group of people who "embrace political violence"—who "don’t believe in democracy." Indeed, the MAGA Republicans are committed "to destroying America," the embattled president now said.
It's rare to hear an American president describe a group of American citizens in such a remarkable way. We're not sure if any major elected official since Joe McCarthy has described a group of American citizens in such an alarming way.
According to the White House transcript, the president's final description drew applause—but who was Biden talking about? So far, he had named only one person. He had named Donald J. Trump.
The president had named Donald J. Trump, but who were these other MAGA Republicans—these people who want to destroy America? Why wouldn't he offer some names?
Briefly, our own assessment:
If Biden was talking about the individuals who created the violent riot at the Capitol, we'd think his description might be a bit overwrought in certain ways, but we'd also think that it made a type of sense.
If he was talking about the public figures who have joined Donald J. Trump in claiming the last election was stolen, we'd also say that his description made a type of sense.
But is that who he was talking about? And if that's who Biden was talking about, why didn't he simply say so? Why didn't he name some names, or offer some general descriptions?
Who was Biden talking about? In part due to his lack of specificity, many observers—red and blue observers alike—seemed to think he was talking about Trump voters in general in the two speeches he offered on August 25.
Perhaps for that reason, when he spoke again on September 1, he offered a basic disclaimer:
BIDEN (9/1/22): Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.
Now, I want to be very clear, very clear up front: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans. Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology.
I know because I’ve been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.
Joe Biden wanted to be very clear. Not every Republican is a MAGA Republican, he now said. It isn't even most Republicans, the president now declared.
President Biden had made it clear. Most Republicans aren't numbered among "the MAGA Republicans," he now said.
If that assessment is accurate, we ought to be grateful. Because as he continued, the president continued to describe these people who want to destroy America in the following ways:
BIDEN (continuing directly): But there is 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.
These are hard things. But I’m an American president—not the president of red America or blue America, but of all America.
And I believe it is my duty—my duty to level with you, to tell the truth, no matter how difficult, no matter how painful. And here, in my view, is what is true:
MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution. They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people.
They refuse to accept the results of a free election. And they’re working right now, as I speak, in state after state, to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself.
Biden was speaking about a group of people who are working, right now, "to undermine democracy itself." They're "a threat to the nation," he again declared.
Let us say this about that:
Has anyone since Joe McCarthy ever presented such detailed claims about an enemy within? And for the record, we'll say this again:
Depending on who Biden was talking about, we'd say there's a type of justification for those startling claims. But who was Biden talking about? Even in this blood-red speech, he still named only one name.
Who has Biden been talking about? In our view, his failure to articulate this basic point represents an enormous failure in presidential rhetoric.
Based upon that one disclaimer, it seems that he isn't talking about Trump voters in general.
Based upon that one disclaimer, he isn't saying that, if you voted for Donald J. Trump—even if you'd do so again—that means that you're committed to destroying America. He isn't saying Trump voters are trying to undermine democracy itself.
Biden offered that one disclaimer, but that one disclaimer was fleeting. Almost surely, the tone and tenor of Biden's speech gave many people a different impression.
That includes the many liberals, in comment threads, who have gloried in the notion that every Trump voter is encompassed by Biden's accusations. Every such voter is one of the Others, liberal voices have routinely declared.
We're going to focus again today on this failure of Biden's rhetoric. Beyond that, we'll offer this thought once again:
Down through the annals of human history, such rhetoric has tended to be dangerous.
Who has Biden been talking about? As of his blood-red speech on September 1, he still hadn't managed to say.
He said they want to destroy America, but he still hadn't said who they are! Imprecision of such type can easily lead to disasters. In our view, we the people deserve better from elected officials.
Let's say it for the third time. In our view, Biden's description could be defended as reasonable if it's aimed at an array of Republican leadership cadres. But even in his blood-red speech, Biden made amazingly little attempt to say who he was talking about when he made his remarkable claims.
Coming from an American president, we think that was grossly incompetent rhetoric. We also think it constituted irresponsible, dangerous conduct.
In fairness, he hadn't called the Others "cockroaches"—but within the realm of political speech, he'd come fairly close. Viewed within an historical context, we thought his rhetoric had him playing with fire.
We thought his rhetoric was lazy, unwise. Monday afternoon, on Labor Day, his rhetoric started to change.
Tomorrow: Inevitably, Charles Blow