Joe Biden vs Pat Buchanan on the Soul of the Nation
The President and the former GOP hardliner both evoked the same metaphor, but for vastly different visions of America
I listened to President Biden’s Thursday night speech on “The Continued Battle for the Soul of the Nation” on the radio, so I didn’t catch the optics of his standing in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia and the weird lighting that his advance team used to stage the event. The words alone were bracing enough, though I wish Biden had chosen to show his audience more than tell it why democracy is in danger.
It’s hard sometimes not to worry that we’re heading into this battle with the equivalent of Weimar Germany’s Paul von Hindenburg as our standard-bearer. (Hindenburg was 78 when he became President in 1925, the same age as Biden when he was inaugurated.) As a long-serving Senator and then Vice President, Biden has probably spent more time in historic buildings that embody our democratic heritage than most mortals and maybe thought that the symbolism of going back to the Founding Fathers’ stomping grounds would speak for itself. Though these days one cannot really draw on that well without care. In the opening paragraphs of his speech, Biden did amend the Declaration to claim that the unique American idea launched onto the world stage more than two centuries ago was that “we’re all created equal,” but in fact we know that’s not true, and it was only through ages of struggle that we’ve come anywhere close to that ideal.
Still, no one is going to remember anything specific about Biden’s words other than his plain choice to call out “MAGA Republicans” for their fealty to Trump, their denial of the 2020 election and their celebration of January 6th and what it means when a political movement refuses to accept the results of a free and fair vote and instead acts as if violence is justified. “Semi-fascism,” a term Biden used a few days earlier at a fundraiser, is a fine way to describe this movement, though apparently his speech-writers decided not to include it in Philadelphia. But now the question is whether he and other Democrats behave differently now that they’re calling Trumpism what it is.