Biden Speech on Guns Gets It Done

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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.

Biden, Normalcy, Competence

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President Joe Biden is going through tough times and its showing up in public opinion polls. The surge in the Delta variant, withdrawal from Afghanistan, Haitian refugee situation, and problems in passing an infrastructure bill have all had a negative impact on public opinion with Biden approval sinking from 52.4% two months ago to 45.4 in the latest FiveThirtyEight.com poll index.

According to Amy Walter, who has taken over as the head of the Cooke Political Report, Biden’s problems come down to questions of “normality” and “competence.” According to Walter:

When Biden was running for president, his message was pretty straightforward: I’m the guy who will bring normal back to Washington. Where President Trump was unorthodox and chaotic, Biden would be conventional and organized. Trump ran the White House like a reality show, Biden stocked his cabinet and high-level staff with Washington insiders with establishment credentials. He was going to usher in an era of boring, but predictable

Biden was able to create an appearance of normality by rolling out COVID vaccines quickly and effectively. But that was all a mirage. “Normality” went out the window with the Jan. 6 Insurrection, the continued promotion of the Big Lie by the right-wing media, and then vaccine refusal among white conservatives. A majority of Republicans believe Trump is the “true U.S. president while the same survey found that 2/3rds of Republicans believe Biden won the election through fraud. Likewise, a “majority (56 percent) of Republicans support the use of force as a way to arrest the decline of the traditional American way of life.” Vaccine rejection has gone down from 32% to 16%, but that 16% is still almost 35 million people and they’ve maintained their hard core stance in the face of the current Covid surge associated with the Delta variant.

In the United States, “normality” is no longer a settled thing and hasn’t really been settled since Obama’s election as the first black president in 2008. What will sooner or later become the “normal” for a Democratic administration is pursuing a radical reformist combination of a civil rights agenda, infrastructure spending, climate legislation, and lowering the wealth gap while also managing the on-going Republican refusal to engage with policy issues, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, and the right-wing refusal to cooperate and violent resistance to the operations of federal and state government. That’s not to mention militia and paramilitary violence.

Being able to deal with both sides of the “new normal” will also be the measure for Biden administration competence. Needless to say, the short and medium term future in the United States is civil and political unrest at best and fascist takeover at worse. If Biden and the Democrats want to be seen as competent, they’ll have to deal with this situation in at least a somewhat satisfactory way.