Right-wing pundits are feigning outrage over one line in Biden's speech

Right-wing pundits are feigning outrage over one line in Biden's speech
Joe Biden // Gage Skidmore

In his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier this week, President Joe Biden called for a series of programs to rescue the economy, rebuild the nation's infrastructure, and help workers and families reach new levels of success. But a large number of pundits apparently heard none of that, because they were so enraged by one of Biden's opening lines, they could make it no further.

As I stand here tonight—just one day shy of the 100th day of my administration, 100 days since I took the oath of office, lifted my hand off our family Bible, and inherited a nation in crisis.
The worst pandemic in a century.
The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.

Some Republicans have determinedly nitpicked the seriousness of the pandemic's threat to the economy, but it's really that last line that popped a lot of pressure valves. Because accepting the idea that we've just been through the "worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War" means accepting that the assault on the Capitol was not a "peaceful protest," that it was not "patriots knocking on the Capitol," and not just a visit from people who "cared more" about the election. It was an attempted coup—an effort to overthrow a democratic election that featured would-be-assassins out to capture and kill high officials, including Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi.

The insurgency was an insurgency. But Republicans can't accept that, because to do so would mean admitting they're on the wrong side of democracy, justice, and history.

Saturday, May 1, 2021 · 2:59:50 PM Eastern Daylight Time · Jessica Sutherland

The headline of this story has been changed.

To be fair, it wasn't just Republicans who criticized the line from Biden. Full-time professional troll Glenn Greenwald crept from under his bridge to do what he always does—purposely misunderstand a statement so he can respond in mock outrage. In the case, Greenwald brought up both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. Which … doesn't even earn an honorable mention on the list of bad Greenwald takes.

Making the easy transition from Greenwald to Leni Riefenstahl's spiritual heir, Dinesh D'Souza suggested that Congress should have laughed at the idea that the Jan. 6 attack was a threat to the nation. Instead, says D'Souza, it was a "walk-through." A walk-through that just happened to come with zip-tie cuffs, assaults on police, and a gallows on the Capitol lawn.

Tucker Carlson also brought an extra can of dander to his show that night, so that he could mock the statement from Biden. Instead of framing the attack on the Capitol as an attack on democracy, Carlson suggested "How about the Immigration Act of 1965?" That would be an act that made the immigration policies of the United States at least one degree less racist, so naturally it would be on Carlson's list of Very Bad Things. It also indicates that Carlson thinks American democracy ended four years before he was born. Which explains a lot.

A single statement that can generate outrage from Greenwald, D'Souza, and Carlson is simple enough. It's called "telling the truth." But there's more going on here than just an uncomfortable fact.

In an effort to downplay the importance of Jan. 6, other conservative writers brought up the Kennedy assassination and the attempt on Ronald Reagan's life. They trotted out the the Oklahoma City bombing, and protest actions of the 1960s. At least one right-wing radio host went as far as insisting that the worst attack on our democracy was actually that "Democrats stole the election" and that Jan. 6 was just fine—a thing you're still apparently allowed to say on Twitter without so much as a warning.

There are three good reasons why the chorus of outrage erupted over this one line in Biden's speech.

Accepting the real impact of Jan. 6 would mean acknowledging the singular nature of the event. This wasn't an assault by an outside power, off-keel gunman, or even a collection of underground extremists. This was an assault on democracy that was nourished and fed, right out in the open, by the highest levels of the Republican Party. It was the biggest threat to our democracy because, unlike any other moment, it very well could have succeeded. Forgetting for a moment how incomparable the events actually are, neither 9/11 or Pearl Harbor was an essential threat to American democracy. The Jan. 6 insurrection was.

The second reason that the right (and pseudo-left Greenwald) are so focused on this line is that they hope to prevent people from looking too much at the rest of Biden's speech. And it was a helluva speech. It's filled with not just promises, but promise. It defines a decade's worth of projects that could undo four decades of sloth. It's ambitious. It's progressive. It's good. Go read it again.

That leads directly to the final reason that the right keeps pointing at this line: They have no plan. That's not quite true, of course. They do have a plan to limit the ability of Americans to cast votes. They do have a plan to keep up the attacks on trans youth. They do have a plan to vote against everything Biden proposes, while complaining that makes him "not bipartisan." They do have a plan to keep using the word "socialism" as if it's a magical charm.

They just don't have any plan to do a single thing positive for the American people. The party of outrage has nothing but outrage left. And even that is looking very small.

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