In the hallowed sanctuary of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA, where Reverend Martin Luther King was once pastor, President Joe Biden took the pulpit to praise the work of the most influential and iconic civil rights leader of recent history. But, unfortunately, the stilting and less-than-persuasive Biden paled in comparison to MLK in an optic-laden environment where an inspiring orator stirred a nation and created a movement that forced a positive change forever in the US.
The invitation to speak was extended by the current senior pastor and Biden ally Sen. Raphael Warnock. It was an essential test of Mr. Biden’s messaging heading into a potential reelection campaign. What better opportunity and environment to convince black voters that this man might have their best interests at heart?
As is the Baptist custom, the lead-up to welcoming the 46th president to the lectern was a joyful noise of celebration. It was soon cut by several decibels upon Biden’s first utterance.
A Biden Awakening?
He began by saying that during school, he went to 7:30 a.m. mass daily and immediately went to the “black church.” But he then got down to business in praising MLK and comparing himself to the slain leader on what would have been King’s 94th birthday. “You stand at Dr. King’s pulpit. And you carry on his sermon. And the message doesn’t stop at the church doors.” Those were the flowery niceties required before the campaign message began in earnest: “the critical juncture” that only Joe can lead the world through.
“The world is changing,” Biden said with all seriousness he could muster, “we’re at one of those inflection points in world history.” He suggested that how the world has evolved in the last five years would determine what it would look like in the next 30 -40 years, and he wanted to show the way for generations to come. He listed his favorite words: autocracy, democracy, chaos, and community, and then asked the congregation hypothetically to choose which they would prefer. He then stated that democracy is not the same for African Americans.
“King was born in a nation where segregation was a way of life. He rejected that outcome.” And his goal was to “redeem the soul of America.” Ah, the symbolism. He went on about insurrection, racism, and hate. Mr. Biden then sparsely sprinkled King’s uplifting and recognizable words and passages throughout the Soul of the Nation campaign – part two, the black version.
Biden repeatedly claimed that MLK was his childhood inspiration. But that would differ significantly with a 47-year career of hurtful decisions made against the black Americans. And on a day to praise the civil rights man of character and caliber, Joe Biden forgot the time he stated, “Even Dr. King’s assassination did not have the worldwide impact that George Floyd’s death did.”
In 1975, just five years after MLK’s assassination, Biden was battling against desegregation on Capitol Hill. He morphed into a leading anti-busing crusader against Sen. Ed Brooke, a Massachusetts Republican, who was also the first black senator to be popularly elected. Brooke fought hard for equality – Biden, not so much.
Biden’s Senate friends were an odd mix as well: Former Ku Klux Klan Exalted Cyclops Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond, who helped pass the 1994 crime bill that ended up incarcerating tens of thousands of black people for petty drug crimes.
His fondness for people on the wrong side of racism did not end in 1994. During his campaign for president at a privately held fundraiser, the president boasted of his relationship with Democratic Senator James Eastland, a leader of white supremacists who stood in opposition to the Civil Rights Act. As Biden fondly recalled, Eastland “didn’t call me son; he always called me young man.”
MLK’s Legacy Can Withstand Joe Biden
The Reverend Martin Luther King is why there is a Civil Rights Act of 1964 and community, local, county, state, and federal leaders protecting King’s dream. It was unfortunate to grant Joe Biden any right to deliver a campaign speech dressed in the guise of a Sunday sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The tone did not ring true, and thinly veiled references to those who stood against the mighty waves of segregation do not diminish his career-long actions against freedom and equality.
Perhaps Mr. Biden is attempting to atone for his political and ideological missteps. But, for once in the entirety of this administration, Vice President Kamala Harris would have been a better choice. Now that would, indeed, be an “inflection point.”
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