Demagoguery in Georgia

Fiery. Impassioned. Emphatic. These are the kind of words being used to describe Joe Biden’s speech on voting laws in Atlanta yesterday. Dishonest would be a more accurate adjective.

The president went down to Georgia and delivered a barrage of exaggerations, falsehoods and hyperbole on the health of American democracy.

There was his outright misrepresentation of his opponents. “Not a single Republican has displayed the courage to stand up to a defeated president to protect America’s right to vote. Not one,” he claimed. Of course, multiple Republican senators have stood up to Trump, Mike Rounds being the most recent example. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski even supports a major Democratic voting rights bill.

There was Biden’s embellishment of his own role in the civil rights struggles of the past. “It seems like yesterday’s the first time I got arrested,” Biden said. When he has made similar claims in the past, he has been forced to backtrack. “I wasn’t arrested, I was stopped. I was not able to move where I wanted to go,” he conceded in an interview in 2020. “I was not down marching. I was not down in Selma. I was not anywhere else,” he has said before.

Then there was the more important and by now familiar misrepresentation of the Georgia voting legislation passed last year — a law that Democrats have hyped as the smoking gun in the sinister Republican plot to disenfranchise American voters.

Biden claimed that Republicans in Georgia have reacted to losing the state’s two Senate seats by “choosing the wrong way, the undemocratic way. To them, too many people voting in a democracy is a problem. So they’re putting up obstacles.” The new rules, he said, “are what it looks like when they suppress the right to vote.”

This is all a dangerous misrepresentation of what is actually happening. The bottom line is that voting in Georgia is very easy. After the rule changes, Georgia polling places are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Anyone in line by 7 is able to cast their ballot. And early voting is being made easier, not harder. As the Washington Post fact checkers pointed out, when Biden misrepresented the Georgia law earlier in his presidency, “experts say the net effect of the new early-voting rules was to expand the opportunities to vote for most Georgias, not limit them.”

Tuesday’s speech was also the clearest example yet of the self-undermining way in which Biden changes his mind. To dial up the pressure on those Senators who oppose changes to the filibuster without which his voting bills will not pass, he said: “I ask every elected official in America: how do you want to be remembered? At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace? Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor? Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

As recently as last year, Joe Biden agreed with those lawmakers he now accuses of siding with segregationists and seditionists. Such turbocharged insults are easy but embarrassing. Does he not realize how foolish these about-faces make him seem? An explanation of why he changed his mind might be more persuasive. It would certainly be less debasing.

Biden’s descent from center-left bulwark against progressivism and self-styled unifier-in-chief to hyperbolic partisan has been dramatic. About as dramatic as his plummeting approval rating. (Perhaps the two are related.) It leaves America with a president content to dabble in demagoguery. Were Biden committed to the normalcy and comity he preached on the campaign trail, he would leave room for reasonable disagreement. He wouldn’t have made the speech he made yesterday.

Instead, he has doubled down on a cynical account of the state of American democracy that neither accurately represents reality nor has any chance of effecting the change Biden says he wants. The dark irony is that such an approach undermines the democratic standards and norms that the president claims to hold dear.

Meanwhile in Washington…

Far away from the president’s irresponsible speech, a plan to safeguard the peaceful transfer of power is taking shape. In fact, four such proposals are being drawn up on the Hill. The bipartisan group including Joe Manchin and Susan Collins continue to work on reforms to the Electoral Count Act that would clear up any ambiguity over Congress’s role in certifying election results. Similar reforms are being sketched out by the January 6 committee, the House Administration Committee and another group led by Angus King, the independent senator from Maine.

Mitch McConnell continues to send tentatively warm signals about these efforts, while senior Democrats on the Hill, as well as the White House, refuse to be distracted from their voting rights legislation. As for voters, they want to see the legislation changed (see below).

Leave those kids alone!

Reader, I regret to inform you that they are at it again. The same type of social media sleuth who unearthed the TikTok account of Claudia Conway, the then-14-year-old daughter Kellyanne and George, is digging into the online presence of Ted Cruz’s 13-year-old daughter Caroline. As Cockburn reports, these courageous truth-tellers want you to know that Caroline has “come out as bisexual on social media” and disagrees with her father about politics. To put politics before the privacy of a child is to reveal that you are in possession of a social media-addled hyper-partisan brain. As Cockburn says: leave those kids alone!

What you should be reading today

Alex Perez: AOC and the Florida freedom virus

Leon Hadar: Biden chickens out of negotiations with Iran

Daniel DePetris: America won’t risk war with Russia over Ukraine

Maria Cheng and Carla K. Johnson , Associated Press: Omicron could be heading for a dramatic drop in the UK and the US

Ross Douthat, New York Times: Let’s not invent a civil war

Park MacDougald, UnHerd: Is the New Right a grift?

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval

Approve: 42.8 percent

Disapprove: 53.0 percent

Net approval: -10.2 (RCP Average)

Percentage of voters who think the Electoral Count Act should be changed

Democrats: 68 percent

Independents: 50 percent

Republicans: 44 percent (Morning Consult/Politico)