Sunday President Biden used Selma’s iconic Edmund Pettus Bridge to mark the 58th anniversary of Bloody Sunday as a backdrop for what really sounded like a re-election speech. It was there that in 1965 John Lewis was almost beaten to death by Alabama State Troopers as he attempted to peaceably march to Montgomery to protest for voting rights.
President Biden hasn’t announced he’s running for president, but it’s been widely reported that the Democratic National Committee is looking to Gov. Murphy to be part of a team of prominent Democrats to help the 80-year-old incumbent fend off any primary challenges.
“Biden aides said some Democrats are still being asked to join the effort, but they have already enlisted more than 20 national figures,” reported the Washington Post. “They include such influential governors as Gavin Newsom of California, J.B. Pritzker of Illinois, Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Wes Moore of Maryland, Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania, and Phil Murphy of New Jersey.”
Such a heavily stage-managed non-contest would no doubt delight the party’s corporate types who don’t want messy moral debates about just what Democrats should stand for. This contingent thinks it should suffice to be able to say they are not Donald Trump. There’s also the argument put forward that a primary challenge only weakens an incumbent.
While there’s been a lot of press speculation about Gov. Murphy’s Oval Office ambitions, he’s already positioned himself at the epicenter of America’s power politics simultaneously serving as a vice-chair of the Democratic Governors Association and the chair of the National Governors Association. Back on Feb. 12 on Meet the Press, in a joint appearance with Gov. Spencer Cox (R-Utah), Murphy touted Biden’s re-election when Cox told Chuck Todd he was hoping the GOP would nominate a governor or even an ex-governor.
Of course, there’s no better way to sideline potential rivals than to make them part of your political quick response team. Last month, the DNC officially put South Carolina’s primary ahead of New Hampshire, making it appear that Team Biden is doing everything in its power to clear a glide path for the incumbent’s 2024 nomination.
This past weekend’s carefully choreographed Selma event featured elected officials and celebrity civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton that are part of the Democratic Party establishment. Of course, 58 years ago John Lewis and his hundreds of fellow activists were challenging that establishment, very much on the outside looking in.
The 1965 TV images and black and white newspaper photos that captured the unprovoked violent attack by mounted law enforcement officers on hundreds of peaceful civil rights protestors pricked the conscience of a nation that had so long been in denial about the brutality of its systemic racism.
Selma came less than two years after President Kennedy’s head was blown off in Dallas so the gratuitous police violence in Selma actually strengthened President Johnson’s hand such that just six months after the bloody melee the Voting Rights Act was signed into law. It was a time of activism when people put their life and liberty at great risk.
“Six hundred believers put faith into action to march across that bridge named after the Grand Dragon of the KKK,” Biden told the crowd. “They were on their way to the state capitol in Montgomery to claim their fundamental right to vote laid in the bedrock of our Constitution but stolen by hate harbored in too many hearts.”
He continued. “With unflinching courage, foot soldiers for marched — for justice marched through the valley of the shadow of death, and they feared no evil.”
Yet, on Sunday summoning the moral courage in the present to challenge the comfortable status quo wasn’t coming from the incumbent president who takes pride in his bi-partisan moderation ‘all in good time’ approach. He believes it all works out in the end because it did for him.
“We weren’t poor, but we weren’t wealthy,” Biden said with the Pettus Bridge as his backdrop. “We were a typical middle-class family with a three-bedroom home and four kids and a grandpop living with us. I don’t remember anything trickling down from my — on my dad’s kitchen table with the trickle-down economic problems.”
The ‘truth to power’ call to action would have to come from Rev. Dr. William Barber who was also in Selma offering a sermon for the congregation of the Brown Chapel AME Church. It was that congregation was directly engaged in the 1965 protest and its church was the sanctuary where Lewis and his fellow marchers repaired to dress their wounds and reaffirm their resolve.
And as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King did more than a half-century ago, Barber had the moral clarity to hold the nation’s power structure to account for its vast racial wealth disparity that became even more pronounced through the COVID pandemic.
“In this country we have 400 families who make $97,000 an hour while you can get arrested simply for fighting for a $15 an hour living wage,” Barber said, noting that while the country created more billionaires during the pandemic, poor people died at a rate three to five times higher “not because the germ discriminated but because we discriminated the way we delivered services.”
“Our military budget is $800 plus billion. If we cut it in half we would still have more [military spending] money than Iran, Iraq, Russia, North Korea, and China combined,” Barber said. “If we took just ten percent of our military budget, we could provide healthcare and public education for all the people in this country.”
He called out the “50 Senate Republicans and two Senate Democrats” who he said obstructed passage of voting rights legislation and raising the federal minimum wage from the $7.25 an hour where it has been stuck since 2009.
“I wish members of the Black Caucus were here, because I was going to say that in hindsight every member of the Black Caucus, the Progressive Caucus, and the Latino Caucus, the Women’s Caucus should have said ‘No, we are not voting for nothing until voting rights and living wage.”
Meanwhile, the Rev. Al Sharpton, who the New York Times described as a “confidant” of President Biden, told the newspaper that he and other civil rights leaders had hoped that the White House would have “pushed more” for the restoration of voting right but he was assured by the president he would do more to bring awareness to the issue.
Awareness to the issue? Seems like a really low bar.
Monday, Biden was in front of the International Association of Firefighters’ annual legislative conference back in Washington regaling the audience with his accomplishments and said he was “determined to finish the job.”
Back in April of 2019, just four days after Biden announced his bid for the presidency, the IAFF became the first union to endorse him. As Biden reminded the firefighter, they have been with him in every election he’s run in since 1972.
“For as long as I can remember you have been with me from the very, very beginning—first outfit ever to endorse me,” Biden told the enthusiastic crowd after he walked in to “Hail to the Chief on Monday. “There are three political parties in Delaware, Democrats, Republicans and firefighters.”
That produced a laugh.
As any ambitious local elected official will tell you, firefighters comprise a critical block of votes. Often the polling place is in the firehouse. In 2016, when the IAFF opted to sit out the contest between former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump it gave the political newcomer an opening in America’s rustbelt in places like East Palestine, Ohio, where he recently returned to pose with local firefighters after the Norfolk Southern rail disaster.
At the IAFF gathering, President Biden pressed for Congressional action on a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-N.J., to extend death benefits now available through the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program to the families of firefighters who die from cancer. According to the IAFF, Occupational cancer is the leading cause of death among firefighters, accounting for almost three-quarters of the line-of-duty deaths last year.
President Biden used the friendly group to tout his pro-union bona fides.
“It’s about your dignity,” Biden declared. “That’s why I fight so damn hard to protect your right to collective bargaining. Make sure you have what you need to manage the risk of your job today. … I promise you; you’ve had my back and I’ll have yours.”
Evidently that wasn’t the case just before Christmas for the nation’s railroad workers he had Congress order back to work after a majority of them rejected a contract that didn’t have paid sick days.
Of course, that went down after the mid-term elections were over. Timing is everything.