“Nice Try, Mr. President” by Dr. W.B. Allen
I listened to President Biden’s prime-time speech on September 1 with great interest. I was not moved to applaud, but I was appreciative of the effort. The speech was carefully and well crafted. I appreciate that. It had the purpose of expelling domestic political opponents from the community designated by “we the people.” I do not applaud that.
The President justified himself by declaring those political opponents enemies of democracy and advocates of political violence. If those charges were true he could with justice advance his argument. However, he made the argument without offering any specific evidence either as to opposition to democracy or as to advocacy of the use of political violence. In short, he employed gross generalizations without referencing any evidence in support of his claims.
That is of course familiar political rhetoric, if also familiarly irresponsible. The so-called “wrap-up smear” (to quote a noted wag), serves the purpose of ginning up electoral enthusiasm. And it may sometimes influence the outcome of an election.
There is a problem, though, in pursuing such vulgar political aims directly from the presidential podium, standing before Independence Hall and planting a flag on the “sacred ground” (as he put it) of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The problem, specifically, is that it mis-represents both the substance and the promise of the founding, arrogating to crass political purposes what demands greater respect as the moral foundation of a blessed way of life.
That depreciating effect became apparent when President Biden reduced the sacred principles to “equality and democracy,” and by which he means only using electoral procedures to pursue egalitarian goals (in the future).
Wholly obscured in this formulation are the claims of conscience which alone justify recourse to the God-given rights enumerated in the Declaration. Note, for example, that where the President imagines that the Declaration declares “all equal in the image of God,” the Declaration more specifically identifies the equal rights of all as “laws of nature and of Nature’s God.”
Those laws reveal the reason that humans have “an obligation to God prior to their obligations to civil society,” as it was framed in the founding era.
In other words, the sacred foundation places our rights above our varying political agendas; whereas President Biden imagines that our political rights are contained within our varying political agendas. His vision, accordingly, considers dissent not as Martin Luther King described it in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” but rather as input in a political process whereby we “mediate our differences” subject to majority rule.
That formulation is fundamentally at odds with any meaningful notion of natural rights or the consent of the governed. For the legitimacy of government derives not from the conduct of a fair election but from a people’s willing acceptance of the very form of government itself, and their judging that it serves the purposes of their “safety and happiness.”
Moreover, it is radically unfair to describe the most recent protesters of electoral outcome as “not normal.” For nothing has been more normal in the politics of the U. S. than for elections to be not only contested as unfair but sometimes actually marred by fraud. Recent memory of Stacey Abrams, Hillary Clinton, and #RESISTANCE suffice the ordinary intelligence to understand that.
But we can scan over two hundred years of experience to demonstrate just how normal it is.
And we will never forget that the tragedy of 1860-1865 originated in the refusal to acknowledge an electoral defeat as legitimate.
Thus, false history also plays a role in mounting a Jeremiad from the presidential pulpit, the real purpose of which is not to unite but to divide the country for paltry political purposes. I get it. The President doesn’t want to lose. Therefore, he is willing to do or say anything that he imagines calculated to avoid that prospect. In doing so, however, he endangers our free, self-governing politics by sacrificing its real integrity and substance for a mock display of virtue.
Will this foray into presidential demagoguery cause any real harm? I predict that it will not do so, because I predict that solid, God-fearing, and committed patriots will see through it and not rise to the bait. Perhaps the most perfervid neo-progressive partisans will be transiently inspired to a higher pitch of resentment of their fellow citizens. That is a regrettable likelihood. However, I do not think that sober citizens will react either with heightened hatreds or reactionary fears.
Accordingly, let us say, nice try Mr. President, but you win no accolades for the effort.