- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2022

President Biden’s first two speeches of 2022 set the tone for the midterm election year: angry and combative.

The tough talk came in bookend speeches last week to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol and to push for Democratic reforms of the nation’s election laws.

Mr. Biden’s rhetoric was heated and filled with fiery images as he cast former President Donald Trump and other Republicans as threats to the survival of America and Democrats as the sole force standing in their way.



In both speeches, Mr. Biden insisted that this election cycle is a “battle for the soul of America.”

He called Mr. Trump “a defeated former president” and accused his supporters of putting “a dagger to the throat of American democracy.”

Mr. Biden warned that the filibuster has rendered the Senate “a shell of its former self” and compared lawmakers who oppose the Democrats’ package of voting laws to notorious segregationists and slave owners.

The speeches were different from the way Mr. Biden campaigned for the White House. In his November 2020 victory speech, Mr. Biden called on Americans to “put the anger and harsh rhetoric behind us and come together as a nation.” He said “it’s time for Americans to unite. And to heal.”

Even some Democrats were shocked by the president’s forceful, partisan remarks.

“Perhaps the president went a little too far in rhetoric,” Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, said after his speech last week in Atlanta on the voting bill.

Mr. Biden changed his tone after a wretched losing streak to close out 2021 and an especially brutal two-week stretch to ring in 2022. As the president’s problems mount, his approval rating has fallen from a woeful 43% to a distressing 33%.

Mr. Biden’s social safety net and voting bills were thwarted by two members of his own party, inflation is reaching its highest level in 40 years and COVID-19 cases continue to surge.

As the frustrations pile up, some question whether Mr. Biden should be the face of the Democratic Party ahead of midterms or at the top of the ticket in 2024.

“He’s angry because he hasn’t accomplished anything,” said Jim Keady, a Republican Party strategist. “It’s going to be a bloodbath at the midterms, and Biden’s going to have to explain to the American people why he hasn’t done anything. He’s put himself in a box and has to fight his way out.

“They’ve got to do something different,” he said. “The one thing he can do is double down and be angry about it. It’s hard to be the guy who brought positive change to Americans when you can’t get anything done, so what else does he have besides being angry about it?”

Democratic strategists say taking a more cantankerous tone is a way to raise the stakes for voters ahead of midterms. The speeches were aimed at disillusioned Democrats, reminding them that they share a common opponent in Republicans.

Biden was speaking to people who felt they have not had a voice in a long time,” said Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic Party strategist. “I think you are going to hear a more passionate push on issues like voting rights because they are life and death for a lot of people and the president understands that.”

Mr. Seawright disputed the notion that Mr. Biden’s rhetoric was angry. Instead, he characterized it as “focused and aggressive.”

“This is the Joe Biden working-class voters want to hear scream loud and proud when it comes to the issues,” he said. “This is the Joe Biden people have been waiting to hear.”

Mr. Biden’s speeches appear to be narrowly targeting the liberal wing of his party, which has become disillusioned as priorities such as voting legislation, police reform and climate initiatives continue to run into a blockade in the Senate.

The division between Mr. Biden and liberals was evident last week when some voting rights activists skipped his speech because they wanted a more concrete plan to pass legislation.

“I don’t think there are many persuadable people out there when it comes to Jan. 6 or voting rights,” said Robert Rowland, who teaches presidential rhetoric at the University of Kansas. “I think it’s pretty low on the list of priorities except for the activist community. Biden is trying to signal to progressives that he is committed to their goals.”

Strategists have split along party lines on whether Mr. Biden’s tonal shift will be effective.

“During campaigns, you either run with something positive or you go scorched earth,” Mr. Keady said. “You can’t run on hope and change when thousands of people are getting infected with COVID and inflation is soaring.”

Mr. Seawright sees it differently.

Biden knows that people elected him to change the course of history, not repeat history,” he said. “Joe Biden will meet the moment.”

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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