In a piece titled “Give Biden a Break,” Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank makes the case that Democrats’ harsh critiques of President Biden aren’t actually grounded in fact.

After citing a series of articles in which Democrats have anonymously criticized Biden for not meeting the moment, Milbank says there’s just one problem with the unfavorable assessments: “Biden has been saying—heatedly and repeatedly—exactly that which he is accused of avoiding.”

It’s true that the White House’s response to the Supreme Court’s radical decision overturning Roe has been mostly lackluster. The administration should have been better prepared to more forcefully counter a decision we all knew was coming, both rhetorically and from a policy standpoint. Last week, Biden did finally come out in favor of an abortion carve-out for the Senate filibuster, which helps provide Democrats with a midterm rallying cry but still doesn’t plug the leadership gap.

And yet, Milbank had a point—Biden has at times made forceful cases against Trump, Republicans, and the MAGA movement this year. By way of example, Milbank writes:

On the abortion ruling, he decried the “terrible, extreme decision,” the “destabilizing” effect of “the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court,” and the “realization of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the Supreme Court.” He shared “the public outrage at this extremist court that’s committed to moving America backwards.” He repeatedly called the decision “so extreme,” adding, “it just stuns me.” At other times he alleged that the Supreme Court “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution” with “devastating” effect.

None of that is an action plan, none of it provides specific guidance to caregivers, explicitly protects access to abortion medication or interstate travel (though Biden is currently set to announce new initiatives in that regard), but it does suggest that Biden, at base, understood the gravity of the ruling.

Milbank got me thinking about the many speeches Biden has given this year in which he took on Donald Trump and Republicans. Here’s a list of some notable speeches this year where Biden championed the cause of both reality-based Americans and democracy:

Jan. 6, at the U.S. Capitol: In a speech marking the 1-year anniversary of the Capitol siege, Biden pounded Trump for lying to Americans about his 2020 loss, inciting the attack, and placing “a dagger at the throat of democracy.” Biden pulled no punches. “He’s not just a former president, he’s a defeated former president. … He can’t accept he lost. … He lost.”

Jan. 11, Atlanta: During a speech in support of passing voting rights legislation, the president called out cowardly Republicans. “Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect Americans’ right to vote,” Biden said. “Not one. Not one.” Biden further prodded, “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?”

Jan. 19, White House press conference: Biden blasted Republicans for standing for exactly nothing. “What are they for? Name me one thing they are for?” Biden said, a point he made repeatedly throughout the press conference.

May 4, White House press conference: The president introduced framing around the MAGA movement, calling it the “most extreme political organization that’s existed in American history, in recent American history.”

May 10, White House: Biden devoted an entire speech to dismantling the 11-point economic plan put forward by Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, chair of the Senate GOP campaign arm. “The Republican plan is to increase taxes on middle-class families, let billionaires and large companies off the hook as they raise prices and reap profits in record amounts. And it’s really that simple,” Biden explained, noting that at least 75 million people would see tax hikes.

June 14, speech to AFL-CIO in Philadelphia: Biden again warned Americans about the Republican agenda, “increasing taxes on middle-class and working people and cutting taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans.”

“They still refuse to consider changing any part of the Trump tax cuts—which delivered massive windfalls to billionaires and others, and they weren’t paid for,” he told the crowd. “They still refuse to consider a minimum corporate tax of 15 percent. … They seem to think that the problem in America today is that working families aren’t paying enough.”

“America still has a choice to make—a choice between a government by the few, for the few, or a government for all of us,” he said.

The TL;DR summation is that, yeah, Biden has given some fiery speeches denouncing Republicans and drawing important contrasts between his agenda and the GOP agenda. He’s also cast the MAGA movement as both extreme and the dominant force within the Republican Party.

Following his May speech on inflation and the GOP’s 11-point plan, Biden admitted to reporters, “I never expected the Ultra-MAGA Republicans, who seem to control the Republican Party now, to have been able to control the Republican Party. I never anticipated that happening.”

None of this is an exercise in discrediting Democratic activists’ anger and frustration that President Biden didn’t immediately respond more forcefully and fulsomely to the evisceration of a fundamental right that deprives some 50% of Americans from basic bodily autonomy.

It is instead an effort to diagnose the problem. If Biden is indeed addressing many of the issues and themes Democrats are desperate to hear from him (albeit, not perfectly), why isn’t it breaking through?

My theory is that it has taken Biden a while to realize two things: 1) that MAGA radicals are indeed running the Republican Party; 2) that, by and large, the Republican Party is truly an anti-democratic enterprise no longer invested in the American experiment. In fact, it’s not entirely clear that the president has fully accepted that second point. Because of that, Biden and his team have failed to package all his critiques of Republicans as falling under a broader umbrella of GOP extremism and illiberalism. Instead of Biden’s speeches being framed as covering certain aspects of the same GOP problem and each speech providing yet one more example of the same overarching theme, Biden’s efforts to challenge the Republican Party and GOP leaders have come across more like one-offs on disparate topics, such as Jan. 6, voting rights, inflation, a Supreme Court decision, etc. The lack of a cohesive unifying narrative has led to some pretty solid and forceful speeches getting lost in the thicket of our pervasive 24/7 news cycle.

But this point bears repeating, it’s not clear President Biden and his team truly understand the enormity of the problem facing the country—the fact that one of our two major parties is no longer invested in democratic rule and is indeed actively weakening the institutions designed to protect it. So even though the president has delivered some good speeches taking on Trump, Republicans, and the MAGA movement, his efforts have fallen short of meeting the political moment. Americans need a bolder and more pointed 30,000-foot-view explanation of why nearly everything feels so wrong in this moment.

If that’s true, Democrats must take the ammunition Biden is providing and build off it. Since Biden has, for instance, backed an abortion carve out, Senate Democrats can press the case with voters that they need two more Senators willing to nuke the filibuster in order to codify Roe into law (as well as critical voting rights and maybe more).

Democrats can also diversify their messengers, such as California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ad in Florida targeting Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

“It’s Independence Day, so let’s talk about what’s going on in America,” Newsom says in the ad. “Freedom, it’s under attack in your state. Republican leaders, they’re banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors.”

Seeing all of those misguided GOP efforts in one place felt refreshing, as did hearing that it’s Republicans—not Democrats—who are assaulting freedom in this country.

All is not lost here, but we must analyze our current shortcomings in order to correct them. In short, we’re gonna need a bigger narrative.


Privacy as a foundational value in a post-Roe landscape on Daily Kos’ The Brief podcast


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