Biden’s case for 2024: Dollars, Dobbs and democracy

Joe Biden hopes to make a positive argument for his presidency: defending abortion rights, democracy and growing a strong economy. Will it be enough?

Eric Garcia
Friday 05 January 2024 23:05 GMT
Biden slams Trump as 'willing to sacrifice democracy' in Jan 6 anniversary speech

On Friday morning, before President Joe Biden headed to Valley Forge to commemorate the third anniversary of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol, he got an unexpected boost when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the US economy added 216,000 jobs.

That same day, abortion rights activists in Florida announced that they had received enough signatures to put a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights on the ballot.

That initiative might give Democrats a fighting chance in a state where Republicans have dominated for the better part of two decades, as every ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights on the state level has passed and every initiative to restrict it has failed since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs v Jackson ruling. That ruling would not have been possible without Mr Trump nominating the justices who killed Roe v Wade, for which Mr Trump has taken credit.

In less than two weeks, the official starting gun for the 2024 presidential contest will sound when caucus-goers in Iowa will have the first nominating contest. Polls show that Donald Trump, the man who whipped up his supporters into a frenzy not only on that day but in a series of tirades between the election and the certification of election results, will overwhelmingly crush his Republican challengers.

While many Americans are not yet ready to accept that 2024 will be a rematch between Mr Trump and Mr Biden, Mr Biden knows this better than anyone else, and perhaps knew it the moment that Mr Trump refused to exit the White House peacefully. In his address at Valley Forge, where George Washington’s troops braved a bitter winter, Mr Biden made the case that democracy is on the line.

“We'll be voting on many issues and the freedom to vote and have your vote counted, the freedom of choice, the freedom to have a fair shot. The freedom from fear,” he said. “We'll debate disagree. Without democracy. No progress is possible.”

Ever since the US exit from Afghanistan led to the death of 13 US servicemembers and the country falling to the Taliban, Mr Biden’s poll numbers have cratered. Rising inflation and concerns about his age only compounded voters’ dissatisfaction with his presidency. Younger voters have started to break with him primarily for his vocal support of Israel in its war against Hamas that has led to the deaths of more than 20,000 people in Gaza, including many women and children.

But in this speech, Mr Biden laid out the three-legged stool of his 2024 campaign: dollars, Dobbs and democracy, arguing that the three are interconnected.

Multiple news outlets have reported that Mr Biden and Democrats as a whole largely abandoned the term “Bidenomics”, and that it did not resonate after the administration made a hard sell for it since the summer. That happened mostly because Americans continued to feel uneasy about the economy.

Since then, though, Americans are starting to feel ever so slightly confident about the trajectory of the economy. If inflation continues to sputter out, employment continues to grow, gas prices dip and more money lands in Americans’ pockets, Mr Biden might be able to make the case that his policies have worked.

In the same respect, while in the past Mr Biden appeared to have an allergy to talking about abortion rights--likely rooted in the fact he is an 81-year-old white Catholic man--he has since promised consistently that his administration would codify the protections in Roe v Wade.

He has also dispatched Vice President Kamala Harris across the country to defend abortion rights. Not coincidentally, Ms Harris visited Nevada, a crucial swing state, to meet with the state’s powerful culinary union

Of course, all of this is underpinned by the threats to democracy. In his speech, he made the case that Americans would not be able to determine their own destiny – an ideal Americans cherish going back including “the pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence – and therefore enjoy prosperity or access to abortion if Mr Trump were to return to the White House. He essentially argued that economic prosperity is intrinsically tied to liberal democracy.

It does not hurt Mr Biden’s case that the same president who uses increasingly autocratic rhetoric leads a party that insists on restricting abortion rights.

Ever since Mr Biden announced his candidacy for president in 2019, his mandate for what type of president he should be has never been clear. Indeed, different factions with often conflicting interests and policies voted for him simply to defeat Mr Trump.

That is insufficient now that Mr Biden is the man in charge. But Mr Biden’s speech and his coinciding actions show that he is making an affirmative case beyond simply being different from his opponent.

That might fall flat and it might be insufficient to convince enough people to vote for him. But Mr Biden is hoping that the bitter winter could fortify his argument before the battle for what he likes to call the “Soul of the Nation” begins in earnest this spring in the summer.

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