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Biden Finally Spoke on Campus Chaos – But Did He Help or Hinder?

Perhaps this won’t be another “summer of love” after all.

After ten days, President Joe Biden finally broke his silence on the demonstrations causing chaos across America’s college campuses. The president declared that “order must prevail” on Thursday, May 2, but was it too little, too late?

Meanwhile, order continued to break down at what are supposed to be institutions of higher learning all over the nation as anti-Israel protesters clog up campuses and berate Jewish students with anti-Semitic slogans.

Biden Speaks – But What Is He Saying?

“We’ve all seen the images. And they put to the test two fundamental American principles,” Biden said at 11:07 a.m. EDT from the Roosevelt Room at the White House. “The first is the right to free speech and for people to peacefully assemble and make their voices heard. The second is the rule of law. Both must be upheld.”

This isn’t a time for politics, he said, but for clarity. And to be clear, Biden says that peaceful protest must be protected but that violence, property damage, and the violation of the rights of others can not be allowed. “Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations – none of this is a peaceful protest.”  He also denounced anti-Semitism, then followed up with a nod to the other side: “There should be no place on any campus, no place in America for antisemitism or threats of violence against Jewish students. There is no place for hate speech or violence of any kind, whether it’s antisemitism, Islamophobia, or discrimination against Arab Americans or Palestinian Americans.”

One might listen to the president’s speech or read the transcript and see a politician trying to appease both sides of the conflict. Liberty Nation Senior Political Analyst Tim Donner has made the point numerous times that Biden finds himself right in the middle of two separate groups that traditionally vote Democrat and that, should he stand firm for one, he’ll lose the other. Many of the most radical members of both groups passionately hate each other – and anyone who supports the other side. Maybe this is just Biden’s attempt to react to the situation without offending either the anti- or pro-Israel factions.

Yet Another Summer of Love?

But perhaps the best summary of the theme was when he said: “There’s a right to protest but not the right to cause chaos.” If this is the takeaway, then it may just answer another question that has been hanging in the air since these demonstrations began to turn ugly: Will this be another “summer of love” in which “mostly peaceful protests” lead to radical progressives destroying entire swaths of the nation’s major cities?

New banner Perpective 1In the wake of the killing of George Floyd in 2020, the radical left took to the streets. Businesses – many of which were black-owned small businesses – were looted and burned to the ground. Government buildings were blockaded and, in some cases, burned. Traffic was stopped, and people perceived to be Trump supporters – whether they really were or not – were brutally attacked. Yet the Democrat-friendly Fourth Estate narrative was that the riots were, in fact, “mostly peaceful protests” – just oppressed people exercising their constitutional right to be heard. By denouncing many of the very acts committed in 2020 specifically as crimes, Biden seems to be suggesting he wouldn’t – and Democrats and the left-wing media shouldn’t – support such actions this time. And perhaps that should come as no surprise, since he’s the man in the White House who has to own this as a part of his presidential legacy. It’s much easier to defend anarchy when a political rival can be blamed.

Maybe He Shouldn’t Have Spoken at All

The big news of Biden’s speech should have been that he denounced actual criminal behavior and violence, that he denounced discrimination and racism, and maybe even that he said, in response to a couple of questions from the press, that this situation does not affect his foreign policy and that he does not think it would be appropriate to get the National Guard involved. Indeed, many headlines of the day did include his declaration that “order must prevail.” However, just as many seemed to highlight that Biden “broke ten days of silence” in giving the speech or offer up answers to “why Biden decided to speak out” after “days of silence.”

One could say he was left with little choice as tensions escalated. If so, however, one would also have to admit that his words didn’t accomplish much, as the nationwide count of protester arrests surpassed 2,000 Thursday evening, just hours after his address.

A more cynical mind might assume he spoke up finally because of the criticism for not saying anything sooner. It’s understandable why Biden might want to avoid getting involved at all: No matter what he said, he was destined to upset and alienate either the Jewish Americans and pro-Israel students or the Arab Americans, Muslims, and pro-Palestinian, pro-Hamas demonstrators.

As Graham J. Noble wrote, “For the White House, campus chaos has become a political hot potato.” Noble pointed out that former President Trump had plenty to say. “The Biden protests that are going on are horrible,” Trump said. “It’s all caused by him because he doesn’t know how to speak – he can’t put two sentences together.” The sitting president’s chief rival for the White House in 2024 went on to say that Biden would have to make a statement because colleges are being overrun.

No matter the effect criticism by Trump and others actually had on Biden’s decision to speak out, the president will never be able to shake the idea that he caved under pressure and only broke his silence because of it. It makes him look not just reactionary, but worse – slow to react. Far better it may have been to keep his silence, breaking it only if asked directly about the situation or at the next escalation in the news.

No matter the effect criticism by Trump and others actually had on Biden’s decision to speak out, the president will never be able to shake the idea that he caved under pressure and only broke his silence because of it. It makes him look not just reactionary, but worse – slow to react. Far better it may have been to keep his silence, breaking it only if asked directly about the situation or at the next escalation in the news. But he chose instead to deliver remarks from the White House ten days into the protests and after widespread criticism for his silence. And one must wonder if he did more harm than good.

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