Democracy Was on the Ballot

Joe Biden gives remarks on preserving democracy ahead of the midterm elections at a DNC rally. (Photo by Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency/ Getty Images.)

A thought experiment. Could a more charismatic politician than Joe Biden have made last week’s “democracy is on the ballot” speech compelling?

Barack Obama would have delivered it dynamically, maybe even turned it into a barnburner. He would have cleared the low bar of persuasion set by our mumbling 1,000-year-old president by miles. Could he have made the point compellingly enough to move votes, though?

No way. For one thing, he gave dynamic speeches before the midterms when he was president. Check the scoreboard from 2010 and 2014 to see how much good it did. But even Obama at his peak would have landed with a thud in pitching this particular message because of the electoral circumstances in which Democrats find themselves. Telling voters that democracy is on the ballot when they’re poised to hand you a victory is one thing; scolding them about it when you’re staring at a landslide defeat reeks of sour grapes.

It’s a prefab guilt trip masquerading as a political argument. “The reason we lost is because Americans hate democracy.”

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