On Thursday evening, President Biden gave a nationally televised speech on gun policy in the wake of the mass shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, Tulsa, and other places. President Biden has a reputation as a poor communicator stemming from his days as a shoot from the hip gaffe machine. j
But those days are long over.
Since the beginning of his 2020 presidential campaign, President Biden has disciplined himself to avoid egregious gaffes and has emerged both as a skilled and forceful presidential speaker and a master of making policy through spontaneous policy.
The speech on guns is a good example of President Biden’s speech chops. President Biden has a clipped manner of speaking that communicates his points in a forceful manner. Instead of being “eloquent” in the manner of Barack Obama (and his vision) or Bill Clinton (with his lists), President Biden is pointed and sharp and it’s a highly effective way of getting his message across. Some of the effect comes across in the text.
The day before, we visited Uvalde — Uvalde, Texas. In front of Robb Elementary School, we stood before 21 crosses for 19 third and fourth graders and two teachers. On each cross, a name. And nearby, a photo of each victim that Jill and I reached out to touch. Innocent victims, murdered in a classroom that had been turned into a killing field.
Short sentences, briefly expressed thoughts, combining quickly to generate rhetorical force culminating in the image of a killing field. It’s not “To Be Or Not To Be” and it’s not Obama’s Philadelphia speech, but it is effective oratory.
Another virtue of the speech is that Biden did not kowtow to GOP Senators. No mention of “hardening schools,” video games, pornography, abortion, or other Republican bullshit distracting attention from the role of firearms availability in mass shooting. Likewise, the only mention Biden made of mental illness was in the context of helping people deal with the trauma of surviving so much loss. Biden’s proposals to ban assault weapons, pass red flag laws, repeal gunmaker immunity, and the like were designed to address the problem rather than cater to the right. And he proposes them directly:
We need to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And if we can’t ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21. Strengthen background checks. Enact safe storage laws and red-flag laws. Repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability. Address the mental health crisis deepening the trauma of gun violence and as a consequence of that violence.
A small group of Senate Democrats is negotiating with Republican colleagues like Susan Collins. But Biden was emphatic about the irresponsibility of Senate Republicans.
I support the bipartisan efforts that include a small group of Democrats and Republican senators trying to find a way. But my God, the fact that the majority of the Senate Republicans don’t want any of these proposals even to be debated or come up for a vote, I find unconscionable. We can’t fail the American people again.
He finds the majority of Republican senators to be unconscionable. With my small twitter account, I’m one of the people who persistently urges President Biden to be more aggressive and partisan with Republicans and more persistent about that partisan aggression as well. But President Biden has made a fundamental break with Republicans and conservatives. He no longer cares what they think and no longer cares about their sensitive, snowflake feelings. That’s a big step for Joe Biden and even a bigger step for the Democratic Party.
And President Biden deserves credit for that.
Biden further helped his cause by summarizing his list of seven gun reform proposals before explaining them in more detail. That bit of speech writing strategy kept the president’s gun policy agenda from getting lost in details and contributed to the clarity of the speech.
As a result, the substance of the speech had a clarity and urgency that matched President Biden’s mode of delivery.
Another striking element in President Biden’s speech was the way he generated outrage for mass murderers from his empathy for the suffering in Buffalo and Uvalde. Having talking about the crosses at the school, faces of the children, and the grief almost everywhere, Biden conveyed a growing sense of outrage over the failure to control mass murders that culminated as he kept intoning “enough.” Much of that happened after the policy proposals and gave further moral and civic weight to Biden’s policy ideas.
Altogether, President Biden’s speech got the job done. Now the President and his people need to be just as effective with their follow-up.