The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Biden’s speech hit almost all the marks

President-elect Joe Biden spoke on Dec. 14 after the electoral college voted 306-232 in his favor. (Video: The Washington Post)
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President-elect Joe Biden, shortly after the electoral college delivered him 306 votes and confirmed his victory, spoke to the nation Monday night. As I hoped, he did not merely celebrate the process that produced this result; he demolished President Trump for attempting to undermine the election and, by extension, our democracy.

“Our democracy — pushed, tested and threatened — proved to be resilient, true and strong,“ Biden proclaimed. He stressed the historic turnout in the midst of a pandemic: “We saw something very few predicted or even thought possible — the biggest voter turnout ever in the history of the United States of America.” He added, “Numbers so big that this election now ranks as the clearest demonstration of the true will of the American people — one of the most amazing demonstrations of civic duty we’ve ever seen in our country.” And he underscored the magnitude of his victory both in the electoral college and in the popular vote.

He also made clear that the election was managed, overseen and confirmed by state and local officials of both parties. In praising ordinary Americans who did their job, he implicitly slammed Republicans for painting the results as tainted by a grand conspiracy. Their effort should be “celebrated, not attacked,” he asserted. “We owe these public servants a debt of gratitude. They didn’t seek the spotlight, and our democracy survived because of them,” he said. He added that this “is proof once more that it’s the everyday American — infused with honor and character and decency — that is the heart of this nation.”

Biden also made clear how thoroughly “unconscionable” it was for people to threaten and attempt to intimidate election officials. “I hope we never again see anyone subjected to the kind of threats and abuse we saw in this election,” said. He added, “We owe these public servants a debt of gratitude . . . our democracy survived because of them.”

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He also recounted the dozens of court cases dismissed by judges appointed by both Democrats and Republicans. This includes the ruling handed down on Monday by the Wisconsin Supreme Court that rejected Trump’s claims of fraud “on the merits.”

Biden underscored that the suit brought to the Supreme Court by 18 state attorneys general seeking to throw out other states’ votes was rejected unanimously. For the first time, he explained just how grotesquely inappropriate this lawsuit was: “It’s a position so extreme, we’ve never seen it before. A position that refused to respect the will of the people, refused to respect the rule of law, and refused to honor our Constitution.” He also mentioned the 126 Republican House members who participated in this effort to ”get the Supreme Court to wipe out the votes of more than 20 million Americans in other states and to hand the presidency to a candidate who lost the electoral college, lost the popular vote, and lost each and every one of the states whose votes they were trying to reverse.”

He took time to extend appreciation to Senate Republicans who already accepted the result. He also reminded Americans that as sitting vice president, it was his job to preside over the tabulation of the electoral college that pronounced Trump the winner. “I did my job,” he said simply.

He concluded with a reminder of the gruesome milestone that the United States reached on Monday: 300,000 deaths due to covid-19. ”As we start the hard work to be done, may this moment give us the strength to rebuild this house of ours upon a rock that can never be washed away,” Biden said.

Although interrupted by a good deal of throat clearing, it was among Biden’s most forceful speeches. Clearly, he had been itching to set the record straight for some time; this was the occasion to deliver that rebuttal.

But Biden advanced one argument that prevented his speech from a full-blown success. He extolled the opportunities Trump had to present his case to courts, governors and others: “Every avenue was made available to President Trump to contest the results. He took full advantage of each and every one of these avenues. President Trump was denied no course of action he wanted to take.” We cannot forget, however, that these were frivolous abuses of the judicial system and wholly inappropriate attempts to intimidate state officials. Rather than describe them neutrally, Biden should have made clear these actions were unprecedented and indefensible. The last thing we need is to normalize this conduct.

That said, Biden presented himself as the official and indisputable winner of the 2020 election. His attorney general, whomever he picks, will need to review the conduct over the last five weeks to determine if any laws were broken as Republicans attempted to subvert our democracy. That person will also have to recommend fixes that might prevent this nightmare from reoccurring. Biden has already provided an immense service to his country: He beat Trump. By a lot. Now it is time to start undoing the damage Trump leaves behind.

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