The midterms may be very close and – possibly – a win for Democrats. The January 6th hearings have helped. The Supreme Court has (unfortunately) helped. And the tendency of most people to vote for individual members of Congress – and not a party – may also help.
But the Presidency is different. The distinct likelihood is that Trump is running. Not because he cares at all for this country. If he runs, it will be because of his ego and, perhaps even more, because Trump understands that as a practical matter he is less likely to be indicted as an odious Republican nominee than as an odious private citizen. Which is true.
Whether Trump can actually win is unclear; maybe even doubtful. But possible. It depends on several things – including who the Democrats put up.
Many rational Republicans and Independents voted for Joe Biden to unite us. To be a moderate centrist who would move past talking points and constituencies. He has not been or done that. He has not had his “sister souljah” moment. And he has not united us.
Leaving our democracy in play. Because if Trump is re-elected no Congress can stop him. Unless Biden moves decisively to the center the Democrats are whistling past the grave yard. For them as a party. And for those of us who believe in American exceptionalism built on institutions that endure – and not individuals of greater or lesser mediocrity.
I took it upon myself to draft a speech for Biden to begin changing this trajectory by delivering his core promise; an unambiguous move towards the center. Now – before Trump announces – so that this long awaited change in direction cannot be spun as weak and contrived. Many from both parties will have varying degrees of discomfort with its contents. Which – under the circumstances – may be a plus.
Here it is.
My fellow Americans, I come to you tonight as a man who has spent 50 of his 79 years on this earth in politics. A lot can be said about that kind of a life – both good and bad.
You will decide which of those pre-dominate. And I will have to decide soon whether or not to run again for the Presidency.
That said, I have a sense of the world, and lived long enough to have the freedom to share it. Whether I run for re-election or not, most of my life has already been lived. The remaining years are not about personal triumph. They are about securing this country, and the world, for those who are to follow. For my family. And for yours.
We all understand that we are living at a time of great polarization. Most Americans call us a divided nation. It has divided families, ruptured friendships, and created a general feeling of unease. Too many have a sense that only the extremes are being heard, leaving them unrepresented. Too many now fear that as a country our best days may be behind us.
The fact is that we are relentlessly damaging ourselves in a way that no foreign enemy could, to the point where the line between manipulation and what passes for public policy often seem to be nonexistent. We have a choice. To continue on that road of self-destruction, or to instead continue the greatest experiment ever embarked upon. That is, whether government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.
That is what is are stake. Not some theory. The basic fabric of our lives and our country.
We need to be what we are capable of being. What we have been before. Not because I say so. Because your families are looking to each of you to keep the promise that up to this point Americans have always kept from one generation to the next.
No one person can do this by themselves. But all of us can contribute. All of us can make a difference.
I have been given a unique chance to contribute in a way that most cannot. Here is how I propose to do so tonight. By plainly telling you – based on the life God has seen fit to have me live – how I see some of the things that are dividing us right now. Not as a partisan politician. And not only as your President. I also speak to you now as a fellow American who, like you, has lived a life.
COVID has been deeply politicized. I don’t think any fair-minded person can dispute that. And most Americans are, in fact, fair-minded. Since COVID is so politicized, my administration is not adequately testing. We are not adequately masking. We are not limiting indoor gatherings. Because we can’t. No administration can lead where the people are unwilling to go. The nature of this virus is such that unless almost everyone takes certain steps, it cannot be stopped. We, as a society, have decided that we are unwilling to take those steps. I understand why. The pandemic has been economically and emotionally exhausting – with no real end in sight.
That is our reality. As well as the reality experienced by many other countries.
What we can do, though, is direct our efforts to what most Americans will accept. We can continue to fund, and accelerate, the development of new tools to combat the virus. Like vaccines, antivirals, other therapies, and mandating better ventilation systems in buildings. It will cost money. But it will cost a lot less than more shutdowns, more economic disruptions, more supply chain issues; and more deaths.
The favorite line of most politicians is that spending money on their ideas saves money. How many times have you heard that claim?
Here, it is actually true. We change the oil in our cars to avoid big repair bills down the road. If we spend a modest amount of money mitigating harms and disruptions now, we can save billions – if not trillions – down the road that will directly benefit each of your families in their daily lives.
Another thing that divides us is the intersection of climate change, oil, inflation, and Putin,
There is nothing easy about this.
On the one hand, it is too hot. It is too dry. And it is getting worse so quickly that we are watching the climate change in real time. Don’t take anyone’s word for it. Just go outside.
On the other hand, we cannot just stop using oil and natural gas. We need to transition to cleaner forms of energy. To solar, wind, nuclear, and other options no one has even thought of yet. That takes time. I would prefer it didn’t. So would many others. But it does.
The mistake that I have made, and frankly some members of my party have made, is to discourage oil production before these cleaner forms of energy are actually available. It is the difference between what we want and what is.
All of us understand that a lot of bad actors pump a lot of oil. That it takes time and money to increase oil production. And that, in the meanwhile, we have to talk to people whom we like, and also people whom we don’t like. Sometimes, we have to talk to our enemies.
That does not diminish us or change what we stand for. It is simply part of the reality of the world that we live in.
At the same time, there are things we can do now about oil that are in our control. I have already authorized the release of millions of barrels of oil from our strategic petroleum reserve. But the price at the pump depends more on refining capacity then on the amount of oil on the market. We can increase our refining capacity by loosening production standards. For example, by suspending requirements around ethanol, which I am now working to do so.
This should significantly reduce prices at the pump quickly, create a meaningful amount of additional good paying jobs in the US in the medium-term, and reduce our dependence on the good will of some very ill-willed governments now.
There may be a cost to the environment. It may exacerbate climate change. But less so than if we do not take these steps. Because many refiners in other countries pollute far more than US based refiners do.
And that environmental cost can also be a temporary one. How long it lasts is up to us. To our innovation. To our determination. To our willingness to endure some pain to achieve great gain. And to whom we elect in the coming years.
Another thing that divides is the culture war. Not policing. That is a red herring. If I have not made my views on this very clear, let me do so now. I do not support defunding the police. Most of the members of my party do not support defunding the police. Indeed, many of the voters who recently successfully recalled San Francisco’s District Attorney were Democrats. I support giving the police more funding – not less – and those who say otherwise are not being truthful.
The culture war that I am talking about is harder to pin down and more complex. It involves things like what we should teach our kids about American history, about sexuality, and about race.
A President does not decide what teachers teach. Our school boards do, and they should. But I can generally tell you where I stand on each of these things.
America is imperfect. But we arose in a world that was much more imperfect than us. The founding of this country was a huge step forward for humankind. Our Founding Fathers risked all to make it happen. You don’t have to agree with every idea that they had, or embrace every compromise they made. Protecting slavery by prohibiting Congress from banning it for the first 20 years of our nation’s existence was a terrible idea. Even then. But we should also acknowledge the debt that we, and civilization, owes to them. To the angels of their better nature. And to their courage.
Which brings me – for just a moment – to very recent history. Mike Pence and I agree on very little. But on January 6th he helped protect our democracy, at great personal risk to himself. He stayed in the Capitol. He then worked across the aisle to reconvene Congress. He certified your vote. Let us acknowledge the debt that we owe to him for his courage on that day.
We all have the privilege and responsibility to vote. And we all have the inalienable right to be treated equally. It has taken a long time to make that principle a reality, and is still a work in progress. But that progress is undeniable.
As applied to sexuality, equality means embracing who each person is. Without labeling as haters those whose embrace we feel is not enthusiastic enough. This virtue signaling is wrong. No one should be discriminated against. All should be protected under the law. But each of us is also free to decide whether or not to celebrate any other group.
Then there is race. As a white male, I will never feel what it is like to be a black woman. But I do know that both of us are human beings. As such, we are both entitled to be judged by the content of our characters, and not the color of our skin.
A corollary to basic equality is accountability. More than 2,000 years ago it was written, in Ezekiel, that “[t]he son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son.” That foundational principle is at the root of what justice actually means, and defines the rule of law. Without it, we begin to resemble the enemies of democracy – those who fear the rule of law and our freedom and seek to weaken it here and abroad.
I am accountable for what I do. Not what someone else did. Or what American society did before my ancestors even arrived in this country. This idea is so familiar to all of us that it almost seems unnecessary to state it.
It was a revealed truth 2.000 year ago. It is equally true now. We cannot and should not ask our citizens to pay for wrongs done by past generations. That is foundational. And I therefore cannot and will not support reparations.
This may seem unfair. And in some ways it is. But the world is a hard, and often unfair, place. We are unlikely to change that anytime soon.
But we can and should help others succeed. I believe that minorities in this country have often not been given enough opportunity. But this is a democracy. Things work better when they have earned wide support. If we want more Americans to support giving opportunities to the many who have been discriminated against, we need a bigger tent. We need to provide more opportunity to all those who want to help themselves. By linking outcome to effort and help to socio-economic status. When we do, many millions of our minority citizens will necessarily be helped. And many others – the millions of unskilled Americans in dying towns and shrinking industries – will be helped, too. Let’s make sure that what we do about race lives inside a tent big enough to benefit all Americans. If we do that, we will also be helping our fellow citizens of color in ways that will endure across generations.
Let me turn now to guns. We all see what is happening. You can’t miss it if you wanted to. I do not apologize for being committed to the belief that no one needs an assault rifle or any other weapon whose only purpose is to kill a lot of people quickly. But there is a Second Amendment. And there are Americans, state legislatures, and members of Congress who disagree with this view.
Here is something we can agree on. And we can do it today.
I will work to require gun manufacturers to install in every weapon they sell a simple system that prevents anyone but the owner from using it. I ask that you support me in this effort. The technology exists. It is not that expensive. And it would hinder thieves from using stolen guns to commit crime, and the emotionally unstable from harming themselves. Or slaughtering others.
I am also unapologetic about my commitment to protecting a women’s right to choose. But I will not burn down the village to save it. I will not eviscerate the Supreme Court as a judicial body by packing it with extra judges that hold my views, because that would transform the court into just another roomful of politicians. I don’t like where the Court is now. One way to change it is through the ballot box. There are other things we can do. And there are also things we will not do.
Some may say that in sharing these thoughts, I have weakened myself with the Democratic Party’s base. I disagree. Because my base is America.
I share these thoughts with you in the hope that it describes some common ground upon which we can gather as Americans. Now I want to also share with you one more thing.
Our democracy depends upon a struggle between conflicting ideas based on fact and reason.
Not all earnestly held opinions are thoughtful. Not all policies – however well-intentioned, are right. Not all contrary views are wrong.
We all know this from the lives we have lived.
And we know something else. That we will succeed as a nation together. Or we will not succeed at all.
God Bless you. God bless America. And God bless our troops.