Discover more from Letters from an American
April 25, 2023
Exactly four years after he announced he would challenge then-president Donald Trump for the leadership of the United States, President Joe Biden today announced his reelection campaign, along with running mate Vice President Kamala Harris.
The contrast between the 2019 announcement video and the one released today shows how both the country and Biden have changed over the past four years. The earlier video featured former vice president and presidential hopeful Biden alone. It began by focusing on Charlottesville, Virginia, and the promise of the Declaration of Independence, written by Charlottesville’s famous resident Thomas Jefferson, that all men are created equal. Biden claimed that while we haven’t always lived up to those ideas, we have never walked away from them. They are the foundation of who we are.
In the video, Biden contrasted the ideals in the Declaration of Independence with the August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, where Klansmen, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis came out into the open and were met by “a courageous group of Americans.” The resulting clash took the life of counterdemonstrator Heather Heyer. Trump answered the horror over the riot by saying there were “some very fine people on both sides.”
“With those words,” Biden said, “the President of the United States assigned a moral equivalence between those spreading hate and those with the courage to stand against it. And in that moment,” he continued, “I knew the threat to this nation was unlike any I had seen in my lifetime.” We were in “a battle for the soul of this nation.” He urged us to remember who we are.
Biden’s 2019 campaign video was a rallying cry to defend American values from those who were trying to destroy them. Now, four years later, after winning the 2020 election by more than 7 million votes and working with Democrats and some Republicans to pass a raft of legislation to shore up the position of working- and middle-class Americans that rivals that of the New Deal, Biden’s message is different.
Like the previous video, today’s message begins with footage of an attack on the United States, but this time it is the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to overturn our democracy and keep voters from putting Biden into the White House. But Biden is not the centerpiece of this video; the American people are. The video is a montage of Americans from all races and all walks of life, interspersed with images of President Biden, Vice President Harris, First Lady Jill Biden, and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff talking to people, laughing with them, hugging them, supporting them. It is a picture of community.
Over the image, Biden says that fighting for democracy has been the work of his first term. “This shouldn’t be a red or blue issue,” he says. He has fought “to protect our rights, to make sure that everyone in this country is treated equally, and that everyone is given a fair shot at making it.”
In contrast, the video says, MAGA extremists are threatening our “bedrock freedoms.” They have taken aim at Social Security while cutting taxes on the rich, dictated healthcare decisions for women, banned books, and attacked gay marriage, all while undermining voting rights. We are still in a battle for the soul of the nation, Biden says. The question is whether in the years ahead, “we have more freedom or less freedom. More rights or fewer.”
The video switches to upbeat music and faster energy as Biden says, “I know America. I know we’re good and decent people. I know we’re still a country that believes in honesty and respect, and treating each other with dignity. That we’re a nation where we give hate no safe harbor. We believe that everyone is equal, that everyone should be given a fair shot to succeed in this country.”
“Every generation of Americans has faced a moment when they have to defend democracy. Stand up for our personal freedom. Stand up for the right to vote, and our civil rights. And this is our moment,” Biden says, as the music changes and the video shows images of Americans coming together, laughing and working together. “We the people will not be silenced,” Biden says.
“Let’s finish this job; I know we can,” the video ends. “Because this is the United States of America. And there’s nothing, simply nothing, we cannot do if we do it together.”
“Let’s finish the job,” says writing across the screen.
It is a revealing moment. If Biden announced a presidential run in 2019 to recall the United States to its principles, he is running in 2023 on an extraordinary record of legislation and the idea that he has restored competence to Washington. And unlike Republicans eager for their party’s nomination, he appears to revel in highlighting the people around him rather than hogging the spotlight, while he touts the work the government has done for ordinary Americans.
Politico’s Eli Stokols observed that some major media outlets treated the president’s announcement as a less important story than a new revelation that yet another right-wing Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, didn’t disclose that he sold real estate to a wealthy man with business before the Supreme Court, or information coming out about the ongoing lawsuits against the former president. Stokols suggested the Biden campaign was quite happy to let the Republicans tear themselves apart in public while the president stays in the background, permitting Americans to forget the federal government is there—as they were able to in the past—because it is operating competently and without drama.
As if to honor that theme, Biden announced that Julie Chávez Rodríguez will serve as his campaign manager. The former director of the White House office of intergovernmental affairs, focused on working with state, local, and tribal officials, she has been described by a colleague as “a get-sh*t-done staffer.” Rodríguez is the granddaughter of union activist César Chávez.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who had left open the possibility that he would run as a progressive candidate, promptly threw his weight behind Biden and announced that he would support the incumbent president, suggesting the Democrats are unified behind Biden's reelection.
The Republican National Committee responded to Biden’s announcement with an entirely computer generated video warning of what the world would look like if Biden were to be reelected: a dystopian future full of international and domestic crises (including an economic crash, which promptly led Twitter users to speculate that House speaker Kevin McCarthy’s threat to force a crisis over the debt ceiling was part of a larger plot to destroy Biden’s booming economy before the election). In keeping with the party's construction of false narratives, the “news reports” in the ad are fake; the images are computer generated.
MSNBC’s Steve Benen notes that the ad “accidentally makes an important point.” Unable to find anything horrific about Biden’s actual record, “the RNC found it necessary to peddle literally fake, made-up images referring to events that have not occurred.”
Bloomberg columnist Matt Yglesias tweeted: I feel like if you have to use fake [images] of hypothetical future bad things that might happen if the *incumbent president* stays in office, that itself tells you something.”