Joe Biden Needs Four Sister Souljah Moments
Crime, schools, voting, and language
(Photos: GettyImages / Shutterstock)
We know that Joe Biden can give a tough speech when it’s needed.
Well, it’s needed now, because Biden heads a party desperately in need of a re-set. Democrats have been hemorrhaging support among blue-collar voters and the party is at risk of losing those suburban women they are counting on so much. Biden’s centrist credentials are tattered — and the crazies in his party are trashing his brand.
Don’t take my word for it — the warnings have been coming from inside the house. This whole post from Ruy Teixeira is worth your time, but this warning is crucial: If Democrats want to get traction on their agenda, he wrote, leaders will have to “actively dissociate themselves and their party from the woke stances that contradict these views and tarnish their brand among working class voters.”
That entails not just saying that one does not endorse now-familiar strands of cultural leftism but in some well-chosen places directly criticizing by name some who hold extreme views that are associated with the Democrats.
This isn’t a retreat and it’s not a sign of weakness. But it is a recognition that if Biden really wants to take the fight to the GOP, he needs to shore up his flanks.
One other crucial point: None of this entails “sounding like a Republican,” because none of this is a rejection of Democratic values.
Every position Biden should embrace has already been loudly and widely embraced by his fellow Democrats.
He just needs to take their side.
The First Sister Souljah Moment
Let’s start with an historical primer. The term “Sister Souljah moment,” comes from Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign. In May of that year, the rapper, hip hop MC, and political activist Sister Souljah gave an interview in which she asked about racial violence in the recent Los Angeles riots.
Question: Even the people themselves who were perpetrating that violence, did they think that was wise? Was that a wise reasoned action?
Souljah: Yeah, it was wise. I mean, if black people kill black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?... White people, this government and that mayor were well aware of the fact that black people were dying every day in Los Angeles under gang violence. So if you're a gang member and you would normally be killing somebody, why not kill a white person?
— Quoted in David Mills (June 16, 1992) "In Her Own Disputed Words; Transcript of Interview That Spawned Souljah's Story", The Washington Post
She also released a music video, "The Final Solution: Slavery's back in Effect" that included the line "If there are any good white people, I haven't met them.”
In June 1992, when Clinton spoke at a meeting of Jesse Jackson Sr.'s Rainbow Coalition. the candidate addressed both the interview and the video: "If you took the words 'white' and 'black,' and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech," he said.
The “moment” was striking because he had shown a willingness to break with people who were perceived to be allies, or “on his side.”
The blowback, not surprisingly, was intense, but Clinton was trying to establish himself as a different kind of Democrat after his party had lost three consecutive presidential elections by landslide margins. He went on to win in November.
Let’s get the caveats and stipulations out of the way: yes, the idea of “Sister Souljah speeches” has become a bit of a cliché, and I’m guessing that many of you will see it as a species of the syndrome known as “pundit brain.”
It is also hails from a very different political era. As Tom Nichols pointed out on our podcast the other day, the world in which Bill Clinton could call out a black rapper and face down Jesse Jackson is a distant land from our political/cultural/media environment. If you think “wokeness” is a myth, let me introduce you to our our hyper-online world of instant reaction and perpetual dudgeon.
So yes, the whole Sister Souljah thing is dated, but I’m offering advice to a politician who was born in FDR’s third term, so relatable historical references are by definition going to be a bit antiquated.
And it’s the sort of thing Biden needs to do. In fact, he needs at least four of these moments. Let’s start with the lowest of the low-hanging fruit:
You don’t think this a huge problem?
Check out this piece from Politico: “How School Closures Made Me Question My Progressive Politics.” Or this one from The Atlantic: “Why I Soured on the Democrats,” in which Angie Schmitt writes about the school closings in her hometown:
I kept hoping that someone in our all-Democratic political leadership would take a stand on behalf of Cleveland’s 37,000 public-school children or seem to care about what was happening. Weren’t Democrats supposed to stick up for low-income kids?
Then there was Chicago. Before reaching a deal to re-open the schools, the issue exposed raw divisions within the Democratic coalition. Mayor Lori Lightfoot accused the Chicago Teachers Union of conducting an illegal walkout. “They abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families." And in an appearance on Meet the Press, she explained the political and social dynamics:
Parents are outraged. And they are making their outrage known to the teachers union….
This is an unprecedented level of parent activism all in support of returning to in-person learning. And we know why.
We live in a district where 70% or more of our kids qualify for free or reduced lunch, which means they live in households that are poor and working class. Which also means that they live in houses with single parents, mostly women of color, who have to work to be able to keep the home together.
So this walk-out by the teachers union, which is illegal, has had cascading negative ripple effects not only on the students and their learning, their social, emotional welfare, but also on the families themselves. It is making them have tenuous financial status because they have to work, but they also have to take care of their kids.
This is an untenable situation and completely, utterly avoidable. So I'm going to be on the side of the parents fighting every single day to get our kids back in school.
This is not just a problem for some big cities. All politics is national and, as the New York Times noted, this is a problem for Democrats — everywhere. “Because they have close ties to the unions, Democrats are concerned that additional closures like those in Chicago could lead to a possible replay of the party’s recent loss in Virginia’s governor race.”
“It’s a big deal in most state polling we do,” said Brian Stryker, a partner at the polling firm ALG Research whose work in Virginia indicated that school closures hurt Democrats.
“Anyone who thinks this is a political problem that stops at the Chicago city line is kidding themselves,” added Mr. Stryker, whose firm polled for President Biden’s 2020 campaign. “This is going to resonate all across Illinois, across the country.”
Beyond polling, though, the evidence continues to mount that the school closings have been a disaster for children, who continue to fall behind, even as we are seeing a spike in mental health issues, and even suicide attempts. Black and Hispanic kids are hit the hardest.
What Biden should say: He should use the line from CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, “Schools should be the first places to open and the last places to close.”
He needs to side decisively with parents and students — and with mayors like Lightfoot who have been fighting to keep the schools open.
If reopening schools is really his top priority, he should act like it. That includes better testing.
But it also means calling out the teachers unions. “No one should stand in the schoolhouse doors — including our friends in the unions.”
“Defunding police,” was a political disaster, but progressive prosecutors around the country are now upping the ante. The result is a virtual civil war among Democrats about law and order.
In Philadelphia, the uber-progressive district attorney, Larry Krasner continues to downplay the city’s surge in violent crime, which includes 550 murders last year. But, when he was asked about it, Krasner insisted: “We don’t have a crisis of lawlessness,” Krasner said. “We don’t have a crisis of crime. We don’t have a crisis of violence.”
But Michael Nutter, the city’s former Democratic mayor — and one of the area’s most prominent African-American leaders — called bullshit, accusing Krasner “of dismissing the pain of Black residents who suffer from the violence while purporting to support them.”
“It all goes back to supremacy, paternalism. 'I’m woke. I’m paying attention. I spend a lot of time with Black people. Some of my best friends … ’ All that bulls---," Nutter said in an interview. “And so you get a guy like Larry Krasner who is the great White hope and ‘I’m gonna ride in on a white horse with a white hat.’ ”
As the Wapo noted:
It was a jarring rebuke of one Democrat by another. But it also laid bare a broader turbulence within the party and the progressive movement, as those pushing a message of racial equity sometimes do so with a zeal or tone that fails to resonate with portions of the Black or Latino communities. The dynamic is even more fraught when those ideas are championed by White leaders.
In San Francisco, even the progressive mayor has had enough. Mayor London Breed declared:
“It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it to come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to more aggressive with law enforcement. More aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.”
The internal Democratic split is also likely to flare up in New York, where Eric Adams was elected in large part because he pushed back against soft-on-crime policies and anti-police rhetoric. But he now has to deal with the newly elected Manhattan DA, Alvin Brigg, who has told his prosecutors “in a memo that they should ask judges for jail or prison time only for the most serious offenses — including murder, sexual assault and economic crimes involving vast sums of money — unless the law requires them to do otherwise.”
Mayor Adam’s new police commissioner is pushing back…. hard. In an email to department members she said that she was “very concerned about the implications to your safety as police officers, the safety of the public, and justice for the victims.”
What Biden should say: “We must continue the fight for social justice, but it should not come at the price of public safety.”
He’s already made it clear that he opposes defunding the police, but he needs to say it again, and louder. And he needs to make it clear that he comes down on the side of fellow Democrats like Breed, Nutter, and Adams who take the issue seriously.
“In some of our biggest cities we have folks who think that we shouldn’t put criminals in jail or downplay the dangers of violent crime. They are wrong. We have to protect our families and our neighborhoods.”
And then he can pivot to the hypocrisy of Republicans who claim to ‘Back the Blue,” but turned a blind-eye to the attacks on police officers on January 6.
New York City has just embraced the idea of letting non-citizens vote in local elections. It’s terrible public policy and politics.
JVL wrote about this the other day:
You thought “defund the police” was bad politics? “Defunding the police” never meant actually “defunding the police.” It was an idea pushed in only a handful of localities. Most elected Democrats—including the presidential nominee—loudly and frequently disavowed it.
And yet, “defund the police” was an anchor around the neck of every Democrat in 2022.
Wait’ll you see what giving the vote to non-citizens does to marginal D candidates 11 months from now.
As my colleague Mona Charen wrote this week: “It’s a lead-pipe cinch that this will become a major campaign talking point for Republicans. They will depict this as proof that Democrats only favor immigration because they want to pad the number of Democratic voters.”
What Biden should say: “We must fight to protect our democracy, but let’s be very, very clear, only American citizens should be allowed to vote.”
This one is almost too easy.
Elected officials, a major newspaper and the oldest Latino civil rights organization in the U.S. have all spoken out strongly in recent weeks against the continued use of "Latinx," the gender-neutral term promoted by progressives to describe people of Spanish-speaking origin.
"When Latino politicos use the term it is largely to appease white rich progressives who think that is the term we use. It is a vicious circle of confirmation bias," tweeted Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.).
"The reality is, there is very little to no support for its use, and it's sort of seen as something used inside the Beltway or in Ivy League tower settings," added Domingo García, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens.
What Biden should say: “The language we use matters, but we shouldn’t get hung up on words that make sense in the faculty lounge, but make us all seem out of touch with one other. Our language should make us understand one another better, not divide us by virtue signalling.”
Would these four moments be enough? Probably not, but they would be a start.
What else might Biden consider? Let’s go back to Ruy Teixeira:
Democratic brand reset is clearly in order to stop the bleeding among working class voters, along the lines suggested by the Jacobin study. A good way to start would be to embrace widely-held American views and values that are particularly strong among the multiracial working class.
Equality of opportunity is a fundamental American principle; equality of outcome is not.
America is not perfect but it is good to be patriotic and proud of the country.
Discrimination and racism are bad but they are not the cause of all disparities in American society.
No one is completely without bias but calling all white people racists who benefit from white privilege and American society a white supremacist society is not right or fair.
America benefits from the presence of immigrants and no immigrant, even if illegal, should be mistreated. But border security is still important, as is an enforceable system that fairly decides who can enter the country.
Police misconduct and brutality against people of any race is wrong and we need to reform police conduct and recruitment. But crime is a real problem so more and better policing is needed for public safety. That cannot be provided by “defunding the police”.
There are underlying differences between men and women but discrimination on the basis of gender is wrong.
There are basically two genders but people who want to live as a gender different from their biological sex should have that right and not be discriminated against. However, there are issues around child consent to transitioning and participation in women’s sports that are complicated and not settled.
Racial achievement gaps are bad and we should seek to close them. However, they are not due just to racism and standards of high achievement should be maintained for people of all races.
Language policing has gone too far; by and large, people should be able to express their views without fear of sanction by employer, school, institution or government. Good faith should be assumed, not bad faith.
Another Conspiracy Theory Bites the Dust
[Ray] Epps has been the focus of far-right allegations that, instead of being a Trump supporter, he was working with the federal government, seeking to provoke violence.
"The Select Committee is aware of unsupported claims that Ray Epps was an FBI informant based on the fact that he was on the FBI Wanted list and then was removed from that list without being charged," the committee said in a statement. "Mr. Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on January 5th or 6th or at any other time, and that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency."
Fauci’s Defenestration of Rand Paul
A new plan to ‘Trump-proof’ the 2024 election quietly comes together
The bill seeks to block every pathway to a subverted election that Trump’s corruption exposed. There are three main ones. First, Trump pressured GOP state legislatures to appoint rogue presidential electors in defiance of state popular votes.
Second, Trump got dozens of congressional Republicans to try to invalidate electors legitimately appointed by swing states. Third, Trump pressed his vice president to abuse his largely ceremonial role to declare legitimate electors invalid.
Blocking these pathways raises a thorny problem. The drafters of the bill want to make it harder for members of Congress to invalidate — based on false claims of election fraud — a legitimate slate of electors from a state.
But they want to accomplish this without making it harder for Congress to invalidate a phony slate appointed by a rogue legislature and/or governor.
Here’s the solution they hit upon, according to King’s office.
Under the current ECA, it takes only a single member from each chamber to object to a slate of electors. After this, a majority in each chamber must sustain the objection to ensure those electors don’t get counted.
So the new bill would require a much larger bloc of members in each chamber to initiate an objection; drafters may set this at one-third. It would also require a supermajority in each chamber to sustain the objection; drafters may set this at three-fifths.
I don't know, I'm kind of tired of being told we (democrats) have to tailor our messaging so as not to give Trumpists something to lie about. They are going to lie about it anyway.
Cheap shot- when is Bulwark going to get a non-white contributor? Once again, your words speak to only the electorate you’re interested in, and this is my biggest problem with Bulwark. You all want to talk about how Biden should frame race issues, but he had ALL kinds of political groups and organizations hankering for change, some more woke than others. Bulwark can’t find one, non- white moderate to give their perspective? My best friend is young, black and gay and told me he’s bringing his Latinx friend to a Zoom thing I was doing. He has no issue whatsoever about using the term Latinx and neither did his friend. What do I tell those people? Hey! Don’t use “Latinx” because old people find it uncomfortable and it might lose elections? Yeah, I’m not doing that anytime soon. I still support Bulwark, but I will always continue to have a hard time listening to y’all commentary on race when, frankly, neither you or I can truly understand what it’s like to be of another race in this country. You also ignore the fact that all those working class voters had children who all became educated and moved to urban centers where they now have high paying jobs and will only support candidates that are “woke.” Maybe the election of Eric Adams and other moderates might help, but I doubt it. These young people are not going backwards, and I think the only way forward are new talking points that can resonate with everyone and get out of the culture war. If I were a candidate, I’d call out culture war bullshit and say let the culture warriors fight themselves, here’s a plan to ensure housing can’t be used a money laundering. Here’s a plan to create new international building programs & partnerships to counter China’s influence. Crime is economic, let’s create revenue and stop fighting each other. Any talking point a Dem has apologizing for it’s left wing isn’t going to stop a GOP attack. We need to stop retreating and fight this war with new tactics and new talking points, not apologizing for the people in cities who are funding many Democratic candidates in other states.