Joe Biden had the better backdrop, but Tim Scott had by far the more powerful and unifying message.
There was a speech last night, and it was a good one. It was presidential through and through; it was forceful, optimistic, and upbeat; it brought us together as Americans; and it reminded us of why ours is still the greatest nation on earth.
Oh, and Joe Biden also spoke.
To say that South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott merely upstaged the president last night is to miss out on the enormity of the task: The brief rebuttal from the opposition party always pales in comparison, even when an accomplished and eloquent speaker is at the mic. All we remember about Marco Rubio, for example, was him reaching for that water bottle. No, for majesty and spectacle, there’s simply no beating an American president’s speech to a joint session of Congress.
Except last night.
It was a bizarre spectacle, to say the least: a sparsely populated chamber with everyone socially distanced and still wearing masks, even though everyone in attendance had already been vaccinated. Just 200 people in a setting that can accommodate 1,000. And there was more than a bit of dissonance between that weird, surreal setting and Biden’s introductory claim: “America is rising anew. Choosing hope over fear. Truth over lies. Light over darkness. After 100 Days of rescue and renewal, America is ready for takeoff.”
We’re ready for takeoff, all right. Just stay over there and don’t forget your face diaper.
Biden started off smartly enough, looking behind him and saying, “Madame speaker. Madame vice president. No president has ever said those words from this podium, and it’s about time.”
It went down hill from there, though. For one thing, he quickly lapsed into that same irritating tic that plagues all Democrat presidents — that of saying “invest” and “investing” when they mean to say “spend” and “spending.”
“Throughout our history,” he said, “public investments and infrastructure have transformed America.” This, of course, was a predictable tee-up for his budget-busting “American Jobs Plan,” which he called “a once-in-a-generation investment in America itself.”
And speaking of budget-busters, “To win that competition for the future,” he said, “we also need to make a once-in-a-generation investment in our families — in our children. That’s why I’m introducing the American Families Plan tonight.”
If you’re keeping score, that’s two “once-in-a-generation” “American” “investments” we’re getting. Lucky us. He’s “The Six Trillion Dollar Man,” said Karl Rove, and future generations will pay for it.
It wasn’t all spending, though. There was also plenty of demagoguery about evil whitey. “Make no mistake,” Biden said, quickly pivoting from foreign threats, “the terrorist threat has evolved beyond Afghanistan since 2001 and we will remain vigilant against threats to the United States, wherever they come from. … And we won’t ignore what our own intelligence agencies have determined — the most lethal terrorist threat to the homeland today is from white supremacist terrorism.”
Yeah, those 18 white supremacists are the only thing keeping us from realizing the American Dream.
The next words out of Biden’s mouth? “And my fellow Americans, we must come together to heal the soul of this nation.” This from the most divisive president in modern history. This from the guy who during his victory speech promised, “I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did.”
Tim Scott, on the other hand, shone brightly. “We just heard President Biden’s first address to Congress,” he began. “Our president seems like a good man. His speech was full of good words. But President Biden promised you a specific kind of leadership. He promised to unite a nation. To lower the temperature. To govern for all Americans, no matter how we voted. That was the pitch. You just heard it again. But our nation is starving for more than empty platitudes. We need policies and progress that bring us closer together.”
That was the only bone Scott would throw Biden’s way. Indeed, he was at his best when he challenged the president’s instinct to see white racism under every rock and behind every tree. “Hear me clearly,” Scott said. “America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination, and it’s wrong to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.”
Clearly, the South’s first black senator since Reconstruction was over the target. How do we know? “‘Uncle Tim’ trended on Twitter Wednesday night,” David Rutz of Fox News reported, “as left-wing users flooded the site with the racial slur … following his rebuttal to President Biden’s address to Congress. His rhetoric infuriated some progressives, and Twitter placed ‘Uncle Tim’ on its trending topics as more tweets relayed the insulting, racially charged play on his name.” The trend was eventually blocked.
Scott, though, took the high road, touching upon his hardscrabble upbringing and his family’s “cotton-to-Congress” story. He credited his single mom for not having given up on him, and then he went off script to pay tribute to single moms everywhere. He also credited his faith: “Becoming a Christian transformed my life,” he said.
He then hit on the lost year for our children: “Locking vulnerable kids out of the classroom is locking adults out of their future,” he said. “Our public schools should have reopened months ago. Other countries’ did. Private and religious schools did. Science has shown for months that schools are safe. But too often, powerful grown-ups set science aside. And kids like me were left behind. The clearest case for school choice in our lifetimes.”
He challenged Biden’s infrastructure plan, calling it “a liberal wish-list of Big Government waste, plus the biggest job-killing tax hikes in a generation.” But in the end, he returned to his faith and to Scripture.
“May the Lord bless you and keep you,” he said, “May His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May His presence go before you, and behind you, and beside you. … May His favor be upon [our nation] for a thousand generations, and your family, and your children, and their children. Good night, and God bless.”