Former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in Wilmington, Del., on June 30. (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Republicans are now attacking former vice president Joe Biden for giving voice to the principle that our founding ideals should apply to not just all men in America, but all “people.”

Bear with me here. This article isn’t just going after low-hanging fruit. This latest folly gets at a larger flaw with ongoing Republican attacks against the presumptive Democratic nominee right now.

On Fox News, Republican National Committee spokeswoman Liz Harrington was asked to respond to this scathing piece by Biden, in which he accused President Trump of eroding the foundations of American democracy.

“It’s amazing for Joe Biden to talk about eroding our foundation when his party is taking a sledgehammer to it,” Harrington said on Sunday. She added this:

His party is trying to rewrite history, tear it all down. It’s very fitting that Joe Biden, in this op ed, has the audacity to literally rewrite the greatest foundational document in the history of mankind — the Declaration of Independence. His woke staffers changed it to, not all “men are created equal,” all “people are created equal,” and are guaranteed equality throughout life.

“That’s the same radical left socialism that has taken over his party,” Harrington concluded.

The relevant portion of Biden’s op-ed says:

Independence Day is a celebration of our persistent march toward greater justice — the natural expansion of our founding notion from “all men are created equal” to “all people are created equal and should be treated equally throughout their lives.”
That pursuit of a more perfect union has been thrown off course in recent years — and no one bears more responsibility than President Donald Trump.

It is remarkable that the position of the Republican Party is that the first half of that is radical or objectionable.

These lines came after Biden discussed the expansion of legal rights and protections over the decades, from the striking down of the “separate but equal” doctrine, to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, to the enshrining of a constitutional right to marriage equality, to the Black Lives Matter movement for the completion of equality before the law for African Americans.

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And so, the sentiment here is that the full realization of the ideals in our founding documents remains a very unfinished project, and that we should continue striving for it. Is the GOP position that this is radical and objectionable?

An irony here is that a canonical articulation of an early version of this idea came from Abraham Lincoln, whom Republicans hold up as the father of their party. In an 1859 letter, Lincoln extolled Republicans for prioritizing the “liberty” of individual men over the holding of them as “property," and said Thomas Jefferson (despite being a slaveholder himself) had articulated the “principles” and “axioms of free society”:

All honor to Jefferson — to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.

This idea, that the “abstract truth” that Jefferson articulated in the Declaration of Independence — that “all men are created equal” — could be applicable to “all men and all times” is what Biden articulated, in updated form.

Yes, Jefferson and Lincoln applied it to “men,” not “people.” But the objection to that extension is yet another way that the GOP of Trump is coming further unmoored from whatever pretension it once had to being the “Party of Lincoln.”

Making this more revealing, all this comes as Trump is explicitly standing by the Confederacy — which, of course, seceded from the Union shortly after Lincoln’s letter — by (among other things) threatening to veto a defense bill if it renames military installations honoring Confederate traitors. And we just saw this:

In reality, the FBI determined that the noose was not a hate crime, because it hadn’t been specifically directed at black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace (who had neither seen the noose nor reported it).

But as you’ll note, Trump raged at other drivers for standing in solidarity with Wallace against white supremacy, implying that Wallace got over on those other drivers in some way — wink, wink — while fuming at NASCAR for the very act of banning the Confederate flag at its events.

Yet Trump and his propagandists want Americans to believe that Biden is the extremist in this debate, and that those protesting continued systemic racism and deadly state violence against African Americans are, in some fundamental sense, radical and trying to bring about civil collapse.

Whatever the excesses of some on the fringes of the protests, Biden himself has supported the removal only of monuments to Confederate leaders, and this attack on Biden’s depiction of the Declaration of Independence only further illustrates how pathetically the Republican Party is scrounging to portray him in that way.

Indeed, given that literally as we speak, Trump himself continues trying to protect efforts to honor those same Confederate leaders, you’d think the GOP’s official spokespeople might pause before sneering at the very ideal of continuing to move toward equality for all in service of perfecting our Union.

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