Why Biden’s Tone Changed for the State of the Union Address - BCB #40
Also: It’s not just Red lawmakers who want to ban “Latinx”
One theory of polarization says that political leaders exploit divisiveness for the political energy it unleashes. With this in mind, let’s compare Biden’s pre-midterm speech in Philadelphia to his recent State of the Union address. We decided to rate both speeches on the Dignity Index we covered previously – a scale that rates how one speaks of one’s political adversaries from dehumanizing contempt (1) to deep respect (8).
After Biden’s pre-midterm speech, we looked at what he could have said if national unity was a goal. Back then, he made sweeping generalizations about the Red threat to democracy – although he said “MAGA Republicans” we argued that most Reds would just hear “Republicans.” He also discussed the increasing acceptability of political violence without acknowledging that there could be any blame on the Blue side. We give this a 3 (“attacks the other side’s moral character”) or maybe even a 2 (“accuses the other side of promoting evil”).
Things were a lot more conciliatory in his recent State of the Union address. Biden didn’t single out “extremist” Republicans this time, but mentioned them in a mostly positive light, emphasizing how the sides can work together. He set out common goals, making the case that both parties could back US factories, support new businesses, and fund new infrastructure projects. We score this on the Dignity Index as a 5 (“respectfully explains own goals or plans”) or even a 6 (“sees it as a welcome duty to work with the other side”).
Why the difference in tone? The simplest answer is that, this time, Biden didn’t need to motivate voters to win an election. Conflict escalates in part because every political leader faces the temptation to use divisive strategies.
When incoming Arkansas GOP governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders banned the use of “Latinx” in government communications last month, it was easy to dismiss it as culture war posturing. But now, five Democratic lawmakers from the state of Connecticut have introduced a similar bill.
This is interesting because it scrambles the normal lines of the conflict. “Latinx” is strongly associated with Blue, as it has generally been popular in Blue-friendly academic and trans-inclusive spaces.
But the term is unpopular with the people it is supposed to describe — only 4% prefer to be referred to as “Latinx.” The Connecticut House members behind this bill are all Hispanic, and point out that “Latin” is already in wide use as a gender-neutral term.
Quote of the Week
To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress. The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.