President Biden’s speech in Atlanta on getting voting rights legislation passed by the MLK holiday may as well have been his “I Have A Dream” speech.
He just doesn’t have the votes, at least not yet.
But it may have been his best civil rights speech ever.
He was personal and direct, and with our democracy in trouble, he was blunt.
What kind of country do you want to be? Compare, contrast, and choose.
“Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” he asked.
We know MLK the holiday is coming up. To the younger folk, George Wallace isn’t the funny Kangol-hatted comedian. He was the former Governor of Alabama, a southern segregationist who fought against civil rights.
Biden continued. Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?”
Again, Lewis is the “good trouble” civil rights legislator who was beaten at Selma by White Supremacists following the lead of racist politician Bull Connor. Who are you drawn to?
Biden ended his moral triplet with, “Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln? Or Jefferson Davis?” Lincoln we all know. He was tall for an Asian. Davis was the president of the racist Confederacy.
So whose side do we want to be on?
It should be a no brainer. The answer should be unanimous, right?
King. Lewis. Lincoln.
And yet we live in a time where the moral universe in politics is so skewed that even these simple questions guarantee only one thing. Debate. Division. Deadlock.
This is where we are with our democracy in 2022.
There were some civil rights groups that actually “boycotted” the speech, preferring Biden to take real action on the two voting rights measures hanging in the balance.
The first is The Freedom to Vote Act, which among other things would make election day a national holiday and make it easier to vote. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act restores federal oversight on any changes in state election laws that discriminate against people of color.
The boycotters wanted something more than a photo op.
But this was no mere photo op for Biden.
I break down the speech on my YouTube video from the daily Emil Amok’s Takeout (M-F, 2p Pacific).
In his speech, Biden mentioned us as he praised Georgia for doing things right by building a “broad coalition of voters black, white, Latino, Asian American, urban, suburban, rural, working class, and middle class.”
But he talked about how Republicans are resisting the change, stunting our growth and power individually and as part of coalitions, by getting party officials to oversee the voting process.
Nineteen states have passed 34 new laws in 2021 that are designed to restrict or limit our voting rights.
Biden called it “Jim Crow 2.0,” saying it’s all about “two insidious things. Voter suppression and election subversion.”
Remember those two. They are the enemies of diversity.
Biden continued: “It’s not about who gets to vote. It’s about making it harder to vote. It’s about who gets to count the vote and whether your vote counts at all.”
Then he took a shot at Trump without naming him. “The goal of the former president and his allies is to disenfranchise anyone who votes against them. Simple as that. The facts won’t matter. Your vote won’t matter. They’ll just decide what they want, and then do it. That’s the power you see in totalitarian states, not in democracies.”
Biden laid it all out in the speech. He even pointed to his predecessor’s possible lawbreaking act, when Trump told Georgia officials, “I just want to find 11,780 votes.”
Not count the votes. Find the votes.
But with the new laws run by pro-Trump loyalists, losers can become winners in a snap.
It’s the reason why the passage of the two voting rights measures are important. Biden even said he’d back changing the filibuster rule that allows for opposing sides to block legislation from getting a vote.
But that remains the problem. Even if there were a vote on the voting rights measures, Biden doesn’t have the votes in the Senate. At least not now.
And that’s why he ended his speech with what has always been a reliable weapon.
“Each one of the members of the Senate is going to be judged by history on where they stood before the vote, and where they stood after the vote. There’s no escape.”
Yes, but do Republicans in the Senate care?
In times when a narcissist has a stranglehold on the GOP, there is no shame. Not in being racist, unfair, unprincipled, or even undemocratic.
There is no shame when winning is everything. And that may hasten losing our democracy.
Watch my analysis of the speech on Show 220 of “Emil Amok’s Takeout.”
And see the livestream of the show daily, M-F, 2p Pacific on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.