When Joe Biden delivered a speech in Pittsburgh on Monday to condemn violent rioting, many in the press swooned. He was doing precisely what he needed to do, they cooed, and managed to "flip the script" on President Trump. Biden read his remarks, left without taking questions (per usual), then let the applause roll in. As I said publicly, his message was certainly an improvement over the very occasional box-checking comments he'd offered previously, apparently caring so little about the unrest that his entire nominating convention failed to check that particular box even once over four nights. The cynic in me thinks that Biden hardly deserves enormous credit for finally taking the issue more seriously only after the problem entered a small city in an important swing state, and after anti-Trump forces started to warn that the problem was beginning to break through with voters.
That same inner cynic isn't eager to cheer Biden on for supposedly 'stepping up' and delivering a more forceful message shortly after a left-wing radical murdered a Trump supporter in cold blood. Incidentally, the suspect reportedly described himself as "100 percent Antifa" (someone alert Jerry Nadler) and had been arrested in previous Portland mayhem, but not prosecuted by a District Attorney who publicly announced that he wouldn't pursue certain riot-related crimes. So while Biden's new tone is better than his old, perfunctory tone and long periods of strategic silence, how would the press have reacted if Donald Trump had issued a both-sides statement that only specifically called out the Left if a right-wing fanatic had murdered a Biden supporter?
Actually, we don't have to guess. Trump's ill-advised commentary about these killings (which are not clear-cut murder) has prompted a wave of outrage and calumny. Yet Biden's vague bothsidesism is being heralded as a profound "Sister Souljah"-style moment of leadership. Somewhat welcome as it may be -- setting aside the shifting political dynamics that appear to have promoted the change in approach -- the Wall Street Journal's editors have wholly rejected the pro-Biden hosannas, noting a number of uncomfortable truths about Biden's calculation and performance:
What we heard was largely a denunciation of Donald Trump and not of the extremists on the political left. In Pittsburgh Mr. Biden assailed the excessive use of force by police, and then he turned to the “violence of extremists and opportunists—right-wing militias, white supremacists, vigilantes—who infiltrate protests carrying weapons of war.” Only after that did he denounce violence in general terms...Later he again denounced “the right-wing militias and white supremacists and vigilantes with assault weapons—often better armed than the police, often in the middle of the violence—at these protests.” Fair enough, but for a man of the left, denouncing right-wing militias is easy. Surely Mr. Biden knows that the protests and riots since Memorial Day are overwhelmingly led by Black Lives Matter and Antifa. Mr. Biden didn’t mention those groups in his prepared remarks, and he never used the words “left-wing” to describe those who are burning businesses and attacking police precincts. Mr. Biden conflated the two sides, though leftist militants are dominating urban streets.
Exactly. As I pointed out earlier in the week, there's a sharp and undeniable asymmetry on the question of which 'side' is driving the rioting, looting and violence in America's streets. Biden used his platform to target the relatively small number of right-wing fanatics in the mix, while failing to call out the members of his own political tribe who overwhelmingly represent the perpetrators. This isn't the stuff of firm, hard-truth-telling leadership. It smells more of a reboot on an issue he was hoping to avoid, arising out of a new threat to his campaign's pursuit of power. The Journal editorial concludes, "Mr. Biden spent most of his speech attacking Mr. Trump for stoking division, and sometimes the President has. But the concern many Americans have about Mr. Biden is that he won’t be strong enough to take on the radical left. On that point his speech wasn’t reassuring."
Of course, Biden could have been pressed into addressing various particulars under questioning -- I'd be curious to hear what he has to say about his campaign aides donating money to bail out rioters and other criminals, at the behest of Biden's now-running mate -- but avoiding questions is a clear campaign strategy for the ticket. National Review's Jim Geragthy is similarly underwhelmed, writing that even after Biden said some better words, hard leftists didn't seem to listen, continuing their violence and destruction after the presidential candidate spoke. There were, of course, horrific riots under the previous administration, one of which was fueled by a lie (that was very recently perpetuated by none other than Kamala Harris). And call me crazy, but it seems like some of these radicals and criminals aren't truly interested in consensus, constructive reforms:
People in the crowd taunt officers and throw bottles at them. Police put on helmets and more gear, it’s just after midnight in DC pic.twitter.com/2c4b1DL1Sw— Shelby Talcott (@ShelbyTalcott) August 31, 2020
“Death to America” was chanted by the mob as they marched through Oakland, California starting fires and vandalizing businesses— Daily Caller (@DailyCaller) August 31, 2020
I'll leave you with a side-by-side comparison of another line from Biden's Pennsylvania speech this week with other comments he's made on the subject:
Yes, Biden will ban fracking: pic.twitter.com/KBLHnJidRr— John Kartch (@johnkartch) September 1, 2020