Biden's January 6 Speech Was The Template For A Winning Campaign
Anti-Trumpism unites Democrats, gets Biden fired up...and happens to be the cause of our lifetimes
Joe Biden’s Friday speech marking the third anniversary of the January 6 insurrection landed in a way his previous remembrances did not.
I think it’s important to be clear about that since it’s been accompanied by all the lame second-guessing and frustrating media misfires that are hardwired into our political system.
Much of the speech’s success—what makes it stand out from Biden’s earlier comments—is that he’s shaken off the dated political tic of speaking obliquely or in code or by implication about his opponent. On Friday, instead of naming Donald Trump zero times, he referred to him 44 times by name. Cf.
This kind of literalism isn’t just cathartic, it’s how the processes of forgetting and desensitization can be arrested and reversed.
The remarks don’t just live on the page and in the moment they’re spoken. They have the potential to be recirculated endlessly, on television and social media, and now these clips will communicate Biden’s meaning explicitly, without requiring any sort of decoding.
And as they circulate, they may also serve as an antidote to the huge glut of viral video content on social media that’s selectively edited to make Biden seem doddering and confused.
Making things like January 6—Trump’s totalitarian ambitions, his crimes and corruption, his general untrustworthiness—the central themes of the campaign has these ancillary benefits, because they are visceral. They unite Democrats, and enliven Biden himself. Policy and economics aren’t similarly unifying or morally black and white, and stripped of the emotional valence of insurrection and dictatorship, they evoke a softer register. They make Biden seem quiet and tired.
ONCE MORE INTO THE SPEECH
I want Democrats to consider the speech in this light because they have a fatalist tendency to throw a single haymaker, find it did not level their opponent for all time, and thus retreat to safe ground. In this period of after-action assessment, influential party figures will cite the worst news coverage and bad advice from inside the Beltway bubble as evidence that principled anti-Trump politics are a bust. That shouldn’t be the only view Biden hears.