Opinion | Biden’s reaction to the Highland Park shooting was missing passion

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President Biden and his team came into office with the benighted belief that they could “lower the temperature” in Washington and reduce the profile of the presidency. The result, Biden hoped, would be more functional and productive politics.

It didn’t work. Instead, he has too frequently ceded rhetorical energy to Republicans and has demoralized his own side by coming across as blasé in the face of outrageous developments.

Biden’s tough rhetoric often lasts no more than one speech (eg, his speech in Atlantic rebuking Georgia’s voting restrictions, his White House speech decrying the mass shooting in Uvalde, Tex.) before he returns to speaking in pale pastels. His thirst for bipartisanship, whetted by limited success on guns and noncontroversial deals on infrastructure, appears to have sapped him of the righteous anger of our times demand.

Biden’s first reaction to the shooting in Highland Park, Ill., on July 4 was illustrative. Granted, he was speaking to military families on a holiday, but his words struck the wrong note Monday afternoon. “You all heard what happened today,” he said, not even using the word “shooting” or mentioning the location. He continued, “I know many Americans look around today and see a divided country and are deeply worried about that fact. I understand. But I believe we’re more united than we are divided.”

Actually, we’re more divided than ever — and increasingly so thanks to the Supreme Court. And the worry is not that we are divided, but that our democracy is imperiled,

Biden’s written remarks were somber and more heartfelt, but devoid of anger. “Jill and I are shocked by the senseless gun violence that has yet again brought grief to an American community on this Independence Day,” the statement read. “As always, we are grateful for the first responders and law enforcement on the scene.” He noted the gun reforms he recently signed into law and meekly offered that “there is much more work to do, and I’m not going to give up fighting the epidemic of gun violence.” It sounded depressed, not defiant.

The murmurs of dissatisfaction rolling through the Democratic Party in part stem from a sense that his serene, platitudinous language and disinclination to fully denounce the GOP only minimize the dangers we face and disguises the extremism of democracy’s opponents. Whether it is his reflexive opposition to court reform or his characterization of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as being “rational” on guns, Biden’s responses do not match the level of fear, frustration and anger that millions of Americans feel .

Democrats cheered when Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker (D) said in the wake of the July 4 massacre, “If you’re angry today, I’m here to tell you: Be angry. I’m furious. I’m furious that yet more innocent lives were taken by gun violence.” He continued, “While we celebrate the Fourth of July just once a year, mass shootings have become our weekly — yes, weekly — American tradition.” He added, “There are going to be people who say that today is not the day, that now is not the time, to talk about guns. I’m telling you there is no better day and no better time than right here and right now.” That is how a leader talks.

Certainly, the country does not need an alarmist president. But for those on the front lines battling for democracy, racial justice, women’s autonomy and an end to gun violence, anodyne statements and grating paeans to bipartisanship to reinforce the sense that Biden is out of touch and unprepared to “battle for the soul of our nation “

Instead, the White House appears to suffer from the mentality that defending Democrats amounts to Trumpism on the left. Cedric L. Richmond, a former Democratic representative from Louisiana who left his seat to work in the Biden White House, recently told CNN: “The country didn’t elect Joe Biden because they wanted a Democratic Donald Trump to go out there every day and divide the country more.” In Richmond’s mind, demanding Biden speak up more aggressively is the “the same foolishness that got us Donald Trump.”

That’s just daft. It shows an utter lack of appreciation for the nature of the GOP and the critical need to mobilize the rest of the country in defense of democratic values. Surely, Democrats are hoping the rest of the administration doesn’t buy into this.

Ironically, Democrats for the moment have the upper hand on some of the most powerful issues, including gun safety and abortion. It’s obvious that McConnell desperately wants to change the topic. (Remember when “cultural issues” were losers for Democrats?) That is because these issues animate millions of voters, especially suburbanites and women.

Unlike Biden, Democrats up and down the ballot appear to recognize we are at an inflection point. Rather than wait for direction from the president or some unified message from advocacy groups, they should continue doing precisely what they have begun: Highlight the cruelty, extremism and unfitness of their opponents. Run on women’s autonomy and ending senseless gun violence. Put initiatives on the ballot to draw voters to the polls. Condemn a radical, out-of-control Supreme Court and vow to reform it — by filibuster reform if necessary.

If the president, the leader of his party, cannot channel that and capture the zeitgeist, the party will need to do it without him. If that happens, the sense that Biden is not the man for the moment will only intensify.

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