Biden's Philly Speech Shows a Man and Party Renewed—and Ready to Fight | Opinion

On the last day of August last summer, President Biden addressed the nation from the White House after the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, just days after the tragic death of 13 service members at the Kabul airport, and with his ambitious legislation agenda in shambles.

That late summer address to the nation would be the start of Biden's political free fall.

In the months that would follow, the outlook for Biden's legislative agenda would go from bad to worse when Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV.) appeared to put the death nail in the president's domestic agenda in an interview with Fox News; Democrats lost a winnable Virginia governor's race; Russia invaded Ukraine, creating an energy crisis and causing gas prices to skyrocket; historic inflation set in; and the nation witnessed a series of deadly mass shootings. And it appeared to many that Biden's Washington was incapable of responding to any of it.

By this spring, as the president hit the political nadir of his first term, Biden's political obituary was the topic of nonstop cable news chatter. Pundits and Republicans declared a "red tsunami" was coming this November. Conventional wisdom was that an election that would be a referendum on Biden and Democrats' handling of inflation, immigration, and crime would sweep Republicans into control of the House and Senate in historic fashion. Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was even boasting that Republicans would flip more than 60 House seats.

Biden and Democrats were declared politically dead.

Biden Speaks in Philadelphia
President Joe Biden delivers a primetime speech at Independence National Historical Park on Sept. 1, 2022, in Philadelphia. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nearly a year to the day of that Afghanistan speech, and just a few months after his political near-death experience, the Joe Biden who addressed the nation in primetime from outside Independence Hall on Thursday night is one who has risen from the political grave, is on offense, has the high ground, and is setting the agenda for the midterms.

It has been a summer of unprecedented success—passage of gun reform legislation and much of his domestic agenda through the Inflation Reduction Act, as well as falling gas prices and inflation. All of this, added to a newly energized Democratic base, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, has propelled Democrats to unexpected victories in special elections in New York and Alaska. Now, Biden and Democrats head into the final stretch of the 2022 campaign with the political wind at their back and a new swagger in their step.

This new swagger was on full display Thursday night as Biden used his most powerful weapon, the presidential bully pulpit, to drive home the new political reality just two months before Election Day: This election is no longer a referendum but rather a choice. A choice between MAGA extremism and their vision for the country and those who want to protect our democracy and our basic freedoms. A choice of whether voters want to hand over the reins of power to those who want to relegate women to second-class citizens, peddle in conspiracy theories and threats of violence, and will take a wrecking ball to the foundation of our democracy—or not.

Heading into Labor Day weekend, traditionally when many voters start to tune in and with just a few short weeks until early voting starts in many states, what was clear as Biden finished his primetime address is that the two parties are headed in different directions.

In a stunning reversal of political fortunes, it is Republicans who are on defense, with shifting daily explanations for why the head of their party appears to have had top-secret intelligence sprawled out all over his resort and scrubbing their websites of their own position on abortion and mentions of Donald Trump. While Biden and Democrats are going on offense, centering their closing argument on issues that polling has shown have risen to the top of voters' concerns: abortion and threats to our democracy.

In May of 2019, then-candidate Biden kicked off his 2020 presidential campaign with a big rally in Philadelphia where he said that a campaign against Trump was a campaign for the soul of the country and denounced the corrosive effect Trump was having on the nation. The campaign that followed led to historic turnout and a rejection of Donald Trump and much of what the Republican Party has come to stand for.

On Thursday, the newly politically emboldened Biden came back to Philly, just over three years after that campaign kickoff, with a similar message and hoping for a similar result.

Two months is a lifetime in politics. And a lot can change. One only has to look at where Democrats were in July versus where they are in September to understand that. But what's clear after Thursday night's speech is that Joe Biden is back from the political dead, Democrats have momentum, and this election is now a choice, not a referendum. All of which was unthinkable just a few short months ago.

Doug Gordon is a Democratic strategist and co-founder of UpShift Strategies who has worked on numerous federal, state, and local campaigns and on Capitol Hill. He is on Twitter at @dgordon52.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.