You should know why Biden’s speech in Georgia was such a colossal disappointment

While it sounded strong, the President tried to demonstrate a commitment to voting rights while making some very glaring omissions

Michael Arceneaux
New York
Wednesday 12 January 2022 12:58


“We’re facing the most significant test of our democracy since the Civil War,” Biden said in a rousing 25-minute speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia delivered last July. “That’s not hyperbole — since the Civil War.” The problem, Biden explained, is that Republicans across the country were passing draconian voting rights legislation in response to former President Donald Trump’s false attacks on the 2020 election. “The big lie is just that: a big lie,” he continued. “You don’t call facts ‘fake’ and then try to bring down the American experiment just because you’re unhappy. That’s not statesmanship, that’s selfishness. That’s not democracy, that’s the denial of the right to vote. It suppresses. It subjugates.”

Biden described the laws as a “21st-century Jim Crow assault” on voting rights, adding, “They want to make it so hard and inconvenient that they hope people don’t vote at all.”

Yes, the message from the GOP was clear and yet, Biden did not call for the end or even the reimagining of the filibuster in that speech, despite activists’ pleas. But the truth is that the filibuster is the main hurdle in the passage of federal legislation to rectify the damage the GOP has wrought to voting rights by both state legislature and the Supreme Court. Some US Senators like Joe Manchin trip themselves silly trying to explain away their addiction to the supposed sanctimony of the filibuster, so they need to be met with the pressure only the weight of the presidency can dole out. But Biden didn’t bother.

Worse, this was the only speech Biden made on the topic for the rest of the year. The President of the United States argued that the GOP assault on voting rights was the most significant test to democracy since the Civil War, yet that was all the effort he could muster. How can anyone complain about everyday Americans caring so little about the state of democracy when not even the leader of American democracy is putting up much of a real fight?

It’s no wonder that people were jaded even before Biden delivered his second speech on voting rights some several months later in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday. Activists issued a clear message days before his arrival: Don’t come to Atlanta without a plan.

Those groups ultimately decided to skip the event altogether and, based on what was said, I fully understand why.

Before Biden’s speech, Vice President Kamala Harris offered remarks, notably mentioning that those standing in the way of securing voting rights are complicit in American democracy’s decline — people like Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who called concerns about threats to voting rights “the most hyped, manufactured issue in a long time.” As he tells it, “This is an effort by the Democratic leader to basically say that Republicans, at our heart, are a bunch of racists when it comes to voting.”

If only Democrats were that blunt. Harris didn’t go there, though. She also didn’t mention those within her own party no less complicit than Republicans in the Senate.

Unsurprisingly, Biden didn’t go there either.

To his credit, the President delivered a rousing speech that should impress those that have been waiting for stronger rhetoric. At long last, he called for at least some changes made to the filibuster in order to pass The Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Indeed, at some points, he practically yelled at them to do it. “I’ve been having quiet conversations with members of Congress,” he said. “I’m tired of being quiet.”

Biden also criticized Senate Republicans for breaking the tradition of bipartisan support for the Voting Rights Act – stressing that even former segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond managed it.

Still, there is plenty of reason to assume that Biden doesn’t quite get what he is up against. He said he only made this plea for a change to the filibuster “after careful deliberation.” The truth is that his lack of support for changing the filibuster in his speech months ago was a glaring omission and a failure to be brave. Meanwhile, the GOP has been hard at work setting up the next election for Trump.

And then there was this plea: “Don’t let the Republican Party morph into something else.”

Many of us have long known the GOP consolidates power by depriving Black people of their ability to vote. But some Democrats continue to pretend otherwise.

“The next few days, when these bills come to a vote, will mark a turning-point in this nation,” Biden said.“Will we choose democracy over autocracy, light over shadow, justice over injustice? I know where I stand. I will not yield. I will not flinch. I will defend your right to vote and our democracy against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And so the question is: Where will the institution of the United States Senate stand?”

Those concerned that Biden’s speech would lack a concrete plan for the passage of voting rights legislation on the federal level had their fears confirmed. This was not a plan. It was a speech. A nice speech, but a speech without teeth. A speech that is unlikely to have made the Trump-supporting wing of the GOP hellbent on having their former president re-elected scared in any way.

“It sets a serious precedent… when there are people that are coming after your base of voters, and you’re stringing it out, and you’re not reacting,” LaTosha Brown, a Georgia-based advocate and co-founder of Black Voters Matter relayed on a call with reporters Monday prior to Biden’s remarks.

“We don’t need another speech. What we need is actually a plan,” added Cliff Albright, executive director of the Black Voters Matter Fund.

As of now, Democratic Senators Joe Manchin, Krysten Sinema, Mark Kelly and Jeanne Shaheen are reportedly not yet convinced on changing the filibuster for voting rights. Biden did not call them out by name at any point during his speech. And he ended it with a sentiment he shared to a reporter shortly before stepping on stage: “Keep the faith.”

Faith without work is nothing at all. And as those activists who skipped out for good reason keep stressing, so is a commitment to voting rights without a real plan. Nice speeches and all.

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