President Biden’s decision to give a prime-time speech on Thursday night, just before the Labor Day weekend (the unofficial start of the sprint to the election), on the subject of democracy and the continued threat to the soul of the nation entails some risks.
If he can sidestep those pitfalls, though, Biden has the opportunity to give a memorable speech at a time democracy is acutely imperiled.
“He will talk about the progress we have made as a nation to protect our democracy, but how our rights and freedoms are still under attack,” an unnamed official told The Post. “He will make clear who is fighting for those rights, fighting for those freedoms and fighting for our democracy.”
In that case, the country could use some clarity on five points:
First, the president needs to make an emphatic statement denouncing the use of violence or incitement of violence to achieve political ends. He need not mention by name his defeated opponent (who instigated the violent assault on the Capitol in 2021) nor dignify Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) by repeating the latter’s apparent threat that “riots” would occur if Trump were prosecuted. He should, however, denounce threats aimed at the FBI and other government officials as dangerous and unacceptable. Americans need to hear from Biden that all of this is antithetical to democracy. It is the stuff of fascist, authoritarian states. And politicians — read: Republicans — who invoke violence against the FBI, the National Archives or any American should be banished from public life.
Second, Biden should emphasize that the party that loses, as Republicans did in 2020, must accept the outcome of elections. Once the voting ends, the tabulation is over and any legitimate challenges are resolved in the courts, democracy demands that both sides accept the results. We can never repeat Jan. 6. Any candidate for any office still embracing the “big lie” is signaling they do not believe in facts and will not accept future results they don’t like. Such people cannot be entrusted with power.
Third, the political branches should have no role in a criminal investigation or prosecution. We don’t threaten to lock up opponents or impeach prosecutors or defund investigations because the investigators are pursuing someone on “your side.” Vowing to use the instruments of power to seek revenge against opponents (e.g., members of the Jan. 6 committee) is un-American, antidemocratic and violative of the rule of law.
Fourth, Biden needs to make clear that our democratic government must function and deliver results to refute the argument that democracy is inherently incapable of meeting the needs of the people. It takes a perverse, unpatriotic party to prioritize gridlock and legislative failure. A party that wants to make the country ungovernable should not be given the reins of power. If any attempt at compromise is blockaded by one party’s hysterical claims, disinformation and intransigence, that party again disqualifies itself from leadership.
Fifth, voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. The deliberate schemes we’ve seen in GOP legislatures across the country to make voting harder, sow confusion over the 2020 election results and replace neutral election officials with partisan zealots are antidemocratic.
Biden does not have to say “Republicans are unfit to govern.” All he need ask is that voters reject politicians who use violence or the threat of violence as a political weapon; refuse to accept election results; aim to make government dysfunctional; try to politicize criminal investigations; and seek to make voting harder and less reliable. There is only one party whose politicians meet that description.