Joe Biden is no Bobby Kennedy.
Much recent news coverage has focused on the mob that accosted Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and other guests late Thursday night as they left the president’s speech at the White House. Lost in that coverage was the weak and indecisive action of the Democratic presidential nominee.
While Kennedy worked half a century ago to quell mob violence, Biden stood by and did exactly nothing to prevent the mob scenes that took place Thursday evening. For someone who claims the 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia prompted his run for the presidency, the silence represented an abdication of leadership.
Remembering RFK’s Indianapolis Speech
The evening of April 4, 1968, saw one of the most dramatic acts of political character and leadership in modern American history — on one of the saddest days in modern American history. While preparing for a rally for his presidential campaign in the Indiana capital, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) heard of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
Speaking on the back of a flatbed truck, Kennedy informed the crowd of King’s assassination and death. Most had not heard the news, and gasped and cried upon learning of the civil rights leader’s murder.
Kennedy then gave a brief extemporaneous speech, in which he pleaded for calm, peace, and understanding during a time of violence and crisis. He related the grief and anguish he faced after his brother John’s assassination five years earlier, citing his favorite quote from Aeschylus to speak of the healing that would slowly come:
The speech resounds to this day, made more dramatic by the fact that a mere two months later, an assassin’s bullet claimed the younger Kennedy’s life as well. Yet it’s the real-life impact that is the most important takeaway.
As cities across the nation — Washington, DC, Detroit, Baltimore, New York, and Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware — faced riots that night in anger at King’s death, the crowd in Indianapolis dispersed peacefully. Thanks to Kennedy’s eloquent example, the city wasn’t reduced to smoldering embers.
Predictable Mob Scenes
Compare that to Thursday night’s events in D.C., and Biden comes out the poorer. Indeed, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that attendees at the White House event would face difficulties on their return home, as crowds had been gathering outside the complex for hours. Consider just a few examples the Twitter timeline of one correspondent on the ground Thursday:
- 8:56 PM: Crowd masses north of the White House, screaming F-bombs
- 9:08 PM: An agitator threatens to beat up a cop with his bare hands: “I’ll f—ing take you out quick, n—-! I’ll probably bust your brains, n—-!” (The police in the area don’t respond to the abuse).
- 9:30 PM: Crowd screams in unison: “If we don’t get it [i.e., justice], BURN IT DOWN!!!”
- 9:44 PM: A minute after someone in the crowd with a bullhorn screams at an older man, “Get the f— out!” he gets sucker-punched in the head and falls to the ground.
- 10:00 PM: The crowd chases a cameraman out of the area, with a woman screaming loudly, “Get the f— out of here!!!”
- 10:29 PM: A guillotine gets placed in front of the White House, for a mock execution of a Trump doll.
I could go on, but I won’t. Remember: Virtually all of these events took place before Trump even came on stage to give his speech. The idea that the turmoil would abate as the evening went on and the crowds inside the White House needed to leave the complex through the mobs outside defies common sense. It had all the makings of the disaster it eventually became.
Biden Could Try to Soothe a Tense Situation…
By 9 p.m., and certainly by 10 p.m., it seemed obvious that a mob of racial protestors, agitators, and demonstrators had surrounded the White House, waiting to accost attendees as they exited the complex. What did the Democratic nominee for president do about this situation?
First, consider what he could — indeed, should — have done. He, or someone in his campaign with access to his Twitter feed, could have tweeted messages decrying the threats of violence. He could have sent out a live video, asking the crowds to remain peaceful and respect the opinions of those with whom they disagree. He could have called D.C.’s Democrat Mayor Muriel Bowser to express his concern about the deteriorating situation.
…But Does Nothing
Given those options, what did Biden do? In a word, nothing. Before and during the president’s speech Thursday night, Biden’s Twitter feed contained general talking points, information about the coronavirus, and two separate fundraising appeals.
About the deteriorating situation around the White House, Biden’s Twitter feed said nothing. He did issue two tweets, one asking “How safe do you feel in Donald Trump’s America?” and the second pointing out that “Every example of violence Donald Trump decries has happened on his watch. Under his leadership. During his presidency.”
The last tweet in particular represents a cheap shot, seeing as how the federal government (unlike states and cities) has no general police power. To look at it another way, if Trump tried to use his authority as president to quell the violence, by federalizing the National Guard or invoking the Insurrection Act, do you think Biden would support such moves? As Biden himself might say, “Come on, man!”
Where’s the Leadership?
Of course, those same limitations apply to Biden — both now as a candidate, and as a potential president. Yet instead of proactively and publicly denouncing the violence and encouraging Democratic mayors and governors to request additional assistance, Thursday night, he did neither.
The fact that Biden and his campaign failed to respond to the looming threat that protestors presented in the nation’s capital might have something to do with their suspicion that those protestors would ignore any statements for calm Biden made — making him look weak and ineffective.
Leadership requires foresight. https://t.co/qTdtIPYM8m
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) August 28, 2020
The Biden campaign tweeted that message Thursday evening, attempting to claim that the release of a pandemic plan last fall meant that Biden exercised appropriate judgment regarding the coronavirus pandemic (he didn’t come close).
But if leadership requires foresight, then why didn’t Biden and his team anticipate the hostile scenes outside the White House Thursday evening, and attempt to stop the mob before (more) people got hurt, or worse? Biden’s tweet Thursday night begs that question — because Biden himself won’t like the answer.