Graeme Wood in The Atlantic:
Last week, in a much heralded-speech at Union Station in Washington, D.C., President Joe Biden reminded voters that in the upcoming midterm elections, “democracy is on the ballot,” and that they should punish those who engage in “political violence and voter intimidation.” Evoking Lincoln, he warned that “what we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure.”
Call it the Cringe Gettysburg Address. The rhetoric of political extinction, originally written for those hallowed Pennsylvania pastures, was now repurposed to energize voters in a contest whose stakes are somewhat lower. The election is important, but for every voter who swoons at the Lincolnian rhetoric, there will be more who notice, even subconsciously, the mismatch, and react with skepticism. The setting alone is enough to make one wonder. Lincoln said the dead Union soldiers had sanctified the blood-soaked battlefield beyond presidential oratory’s “poor power to add or detract.” Anyone who has slumped against a sticky wall in Union Station while eating a Filet-O-Fish and waiting for a delayed train will certainly feel powerless to detract from that experience. Rhetoric should soar, but it should take care not to invite the wrong comparisons.