Does the sparse attendance at last night’s CNN town hall with Joe Biden demonstrate a continuing enthusiasm deficit for the president? Or does it indicate that these staged-extemporaneous shows have played themselves out with the public? As Glenn Reynolds often suggests, we should embrace the power of and.
One can’t accuse Biden of not playing his part, though. As he usually does, Biden managed to fumble his way through policy while vacuously demagoguing opposition to his positions. The best case in point came in a discussion of gun control, in which Biden broadened his call to ban “assault weapons” to anything that has the capacity to fire multiple rounds — including pistols:
Biden: “Whether it’s a nine millimeter pistol or whether it’s a rifle, is ridiculous. I’m continuing to push the elimination of a sale of those things. But I’m not likely to get that done in the near term.”
He wants to ban hand guns. A complete demolition of the 2nd Amendment. pic.twitter.com/LeV8yCW9zO
— DaybreakInsider (@DaybreakInsider) July 22, 2021
QUESTION: Thank you. So gun violence has been on the rise across the country. And as a recent student and young professional living in Over-the-Rhine, I’ve seen this first-hand. Gun violence has taken the lives of so many young students and young people. I’m tired. And I want to see change that’s going to make our cities like Cincinnati safer. So how will you address gun violence from a federal point of view to actually bring about change and make our local cities safer?
BIDEN: Now, I’m not being a wise guy. There’s no reason you should. Have you seen my gun violence legislation I’ve introduced? As you know, because you’re so involved, actually crime is down, gun violence and murder rates are up. Guns.
I’m the only guy that ever got passed legislation, when I was a senator, to make sure we eliminated assault weapons. The idea you need a weapon that can have the ability to fire 20, 30, 40, 50, 120 shots from that weapon, whether — whether it’s a .9 millimeter pistol or whether it’s a rifle, is ridiculous.
I’m continuing to push to eliminate the sale of those things. But I’m not likely to get that done in the near term. So here’s what I’ve done. The people who, in fact, are using those weapons are acquiring them illegally. Illegally.
He’s not likely to even get close to accomplishing that kind of ban. The idea that controlling magazine capacities on pistols or rifles will somehow lead to a reduction in violence is ridiculous, whether we’re talking about 9mm pistols or a rifle. Conflating pistols with “assault weapons” is a major change in policy even over Biden’s earlier gun-banning days. It’s worth pointing out, too, that Biden’s ten-year ban on arbitrary long-barrel firearms models didn’t have any impact on violent crime — which had started to decline prior to the ban and kept declining after it expired.
Whether that conflation was purposeful or accidental is a good question. There’s no question at all about Biden’s demagoguery on voting laws, though. That’s as deliberate as it is deceitful, a callback to Biden’s accusation that Republicans would “put y’all back in chains” from the 2012 campaign:
We have election officials across the board that they’re deciding to push out of the way and if, in fact, tomorrow — let’s say we’re running last time, and these laws have been in effect, that are — these changes, in Georgia, the Georgia’s legislature, oh, Biden won by multiple thousand votes, they could say, “We don’t think it was legit,” and the state legislature votes, “We’re going to send electors up to Congress to vote for Trump, not Biden.” That’s never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever been tried before. This is Jim Crow on steroids, what we’re talking about.
Biden did sidestep the Jim Crow demagoguery on the filibuster, although Don Lemon tried mightily to get Biden to bite on it:
BIDEN: … But what I want to do is, I’m trying to bring the country together. And I don’t want the debate to only be about whether or not we have a filibuster or exceptions to the filibuster or going back to the way the filibuster had to be used before.
LEMON: But isn’t that the only way you’re going to get it done right now?
BIDEN: No, I don’t believe that. I think we can get it done.
LEMON: If you — you agree with the former president. He has called — as you called him, your old boss, that it’s a relic of Jim Crow.
BIDEN: It is.
LEMON: If it’s a relic of Jim Crow, it’s been used to fight against civil rights legislation historically, why protect it?
BIDEN: There’s no reason to protect it other than you’re going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done. Nothing at all will get done.
Call it Joe Biden’s Greatest Hits, if you will, but viewers aren’t biting on it. While CNN understandably avoided wide shots during the broadcast last night, the pool reporters provided the full context of ennui present in the auditorium. As the New York Post gleefully points out this morning, this isn’t an artifact of social distancing:
What the Biden CNN town hall looks like from the back of the auditorium: pic.twitter.com/juUehd7PDu
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) July 22, 2021
The more than dozen empty rows weren’t apparent to television viewers thanks to flattering shots that appeared to show a full, non-distanced crowd packing the front rows — in a striking visual display of normalcy after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions.
But members of the traveling White House press pool shared photos from the back of the room, revealing that, in fact, the venue was far from packed at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati.
Bloomberg News reporter Jennifer Epstein, who traveled with Biden as a representative of wire services, tweeted an image of “[w]hat the Biden CNN town hall looks like from the back of the auditorium”
Voice of America reporter Steve Herman, the radio pool reporter for the trip, tweeted a similar image showing that the “[b]ack of the auditorium is empty.”
Herman added a video in response to Epstein’s picture, confirming the lack of audience:
— Steve Herman (@W7VOA) July 22, 2021
Stephen Kruiser watched the show, and came away distinctly unimpressed with Biden’s performance:
Crushing it pic.twitter.com/DI21CUSp7k
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) July 22, 2021
This guy has the launch codes.
The case could be made that this wasn’t that big of a train wreck because it happened on CNN and therefore had an audience only slightly larger than I do when my cat wanders in and watches me while I shave. Still, why can’t they just leave this guy in the White House with his coloring books and spare the country the embarrassment? Television appearances by Biden are probably the only American shows the ChiComs allow to air uncensored so their beleaguered citizens can finally have something to laugh at.
It’s obvious that Biden doesn’t have an endless supply of these appearances left in him. If we’re lucky, his handlers will realize that and begin scheduling them less frequently. I don’t think even the most ardent Beltway Dems are concussed enough to think that any of this is good.
Well, except Kamala Harris. I think I can hear her cackling from here.
It’s probably time to put this manufactured format to bed. Which is where Biden should have been last night, too.