President Joe Biden says democracy is at risk


As campaign days dwindle down to a precious few, Republican candidates around the country are like tail-swishing Rovers pawing at the door, eager to hit the backyard and romp. Polls, some of them spurious, suggest Republicans around the country are in for a big night next week.

They may well be. That’s one of the reasons President Joe Biden took to the airwaves Wednesday evening. Like King Canute the Great, the president knows the tide is swelling; like the old English king, he knows, as well, that he and his fellow Democrats may get drenched. That’s what usually happens to the party holding the White House during midterm elections.

An election shellacking, though, wasn’t the only reason, perhaps not the primary reason, for Biden’s 20-minute address to the nation. Speaking from Washington, D.C.’s Union Station, he opened his remarks with a graphic and powerful description of the recent attack on Paul Pelosi, the 82-year-old husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The hammer-wielding intruder, apparently a deranged right-wing conspiracist, reportedly asked “Where’s Nancy?” It was an eerie echo of the chant by rioters who invaded the august building a couple of blocks from Union Station on Jan. 6, 2021.

Biden suggested that the life-threatening, night-time assault in the Pelosis’ San Francisco home — an attack ridiculed by Donald Trump, Jr., and other GOP figures — was a warning that political violence continues to escalate in this country, violence fed by the former president and his extremist MAGA faithful.

His address was a warning also that too many Republicans, including a majority of the candidates for House, Senate and key statewide offices, still proclaim the Big Lie two years after the 2020 election. Incredibly, candidates who may be swept into office in a few days still refuse to accept the basic premise of a healthy democracy that election results are final – until the next election. Incredibly, they are willing to ignore or excuse political violence and voter intimidation, thereby undermining democracy itself. They refuse to accept the fact that their rhetorical recklessness incites those on the fringes to violent acts, as in the Pelosi home.

“We must, with one overwhelming unified voice, speak as a country and say there’s no place, no place for voter intimidation or political violence in America, whether it’s directed at Democrats or Republicans,” Biden said. “No place, period. No place, ever.”

Biden also noted that a growing number of GOP candidates have said they may pull a Trump and refuse to concede if they lose. “As I stand here today,” the president said, “there are candidates running for every level of office in America — for governor, for Congress, for attorney general, for secretary of state who won’t commit to accepting the results of the elections they’re in,” he said. “That is the path to chaos in America. It’s unprecedented. It’s unlawful. And it is un-American. As I’ve said before, you can’t love your country only when you win.”

Biden was saying, in essence, that they’re taking a hammer to democracy.

The president emphasized that “extreme MAGA Republicans” are a minority of the Republican Party, but they are “the engine of the party” and “loud and determined.”

Some of those loud individuals, and even some Republicans not particularly fond of Donald Trump, such as Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, were quick to dismiss Biden’s speech as hyper-partisan. Fox News, as per usual, chose the hyperbolic headline option: “Biden suggests voting for Republicans is a threat to democracy.”

That’s only true if you consider all Republicans to be the cynical, autocracy-friendly, election deniers Biden was talking about. And that’s not the case.

The president avoided policy issues in his address. Certainly, there are fierce policy debates to be had over everything from Medicare to climate change to Ukraine. But even if you disagree with Biden or Democrats on some issues, we urge every democracy-loving American is to find a candidate who best represents your values and priorities without denying election results.

A failure to do so could pave the way for the most dangerous man ever to occupy the White House to return even if he, once again, loses the election.

Many voters next week will make their decision on more immediate concerns — not on the environment or Ukraine, not even on abortion rights, but on the price of gas and groceries, a concern about violent crime, a belief that immigrant hordes are invading. Even though inflation, immigration and other issues don’t lend themselves to easy answers, regardless of who’s in office, the president invariably gets the blame.

The existential threat to democracy, on the other hand, is too abstract for most of us to feel. Regardless of the results next Tuesday night, we will wake up Wednesday morning, get the kids off to school and go to work. The world will not come crashing down like a bomb-struck building in Kyiv.

The threat to democracy is insidious. For Democrats, for Republicans, for independents — for those thinking maybe voting this time isn’t worth the trouble — it must be the ultimate issue.

“In our bones, we know democracy is at risk,” the president said. “We also know this: It’s within our power, each and every one of us, to preserve our democracy.”

That power, the power of the people, exerts itself at the ballot box. Rejecting those candidates either ignorant or unaware of democracy’s cost, its fragility, turning away especially those too cynical to care, democracy’s champions say no. Loudly.