Sarah Huckabee Sanders, an Arkansas senator, became the latest politician to try to recreate the old Kennedy magic when she delivered the Republican response to Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Sanders never stops talking about the cultural battle, but this focus on economic policy is very different.
Many things about Joe Biden can be criticized, but there is no denying that his outlook on the world and the Republicans are fundamentally different.
Biden laid out a plan for restoring domestic harmony to the country.
Sanders and other Republicans can only offer a long-term culture war stalemate in which Americans are asked to take on any burden, overcome any challenge, support any ally, and fight against any enemy to get rid of the word “Latinx.”
The country will commemorate the November 60th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death. The murdered president, whose life was cut short when he was at his best, still haunts the country he led. In the decades since JFK’s death, many politicians have tried to claim to be his successor by emulating his style (e.g., having a youthful walk, messy hair, and a love of rhetorical flourishes). Gary Hart, Dan Quayle, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama are just some of the politicians from the two main political parties in the United States who have played this game.
During a vice presidential debate in 1988, Quayle attempted to draw a comparison between JFK and himself. His Democratic opponent Lloyd Bentsen famously shouted, “Senator, I served alongside Jack Kennedy.” Having known Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. You’re not Jack Kennedy, Senator.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, an Arkansas senator, became the latest politician to try to recreate the old Kennedy magic when she delivered the Republican response to Joe Biden’s State of the Union address on Tuesday. She did this by clearly referencing JFK’s famous first speech as president and the idea of generational change. She used Joe Biden’s age as the basis for the comparison. JFK succeeded Dwight Eisenhower, the senior American president at the time, and became the nation’s youngest-ever president at the time of his inauguration. “At 40, I’m the youngest governor in the nation,” Sanders said in response. He is the oldest president in American history at the age of 80. She continued, “I’m the first woman to govern my state,” emphasising her rising star and trailblazer role.
Sanders also honoured the Little Rock Nine, pioneers who began desegregating Arkansas schools in 1957 despite attacks from white supremacists, as part of the civil rights efforts of the Eisenhower and Kennedy eras. Sanders did this, nonetheless, in an attempt to unfairly juxtapose the valiant fights of the past with the current threat posed by critical race theory.
Kennedy stated in his remarks at his inauguration:
The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, those born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed and to which we remain committed today, both at home and abroad.
Both the wording of this speech and the focus on “a new generation…born in this century” were brought up by Sanders. As said by Sanders:
A brand new generation needs to take the helm. Our time has come. It’s our chance right now. A new generation was born in the last few decades of the 20th century and grew up during stock market crashes and economic booms. Created due to 9/11’s tragedy and the Cold War victory. A generation anchored to our deepest values and oldest traditions yet unafraid to challenge the current system and find a better path forward. A generation bursting with passion and new ideas to solve age-old issues
Sanders’ Kennedy-like language in his speech should be interpreted as a political center outreach. Many in the political elite of both parties hope that polarisation can be overcome and a new period of unity formed by resurrecting the spirit of the Cold War, as the recent ridiculous panic about the Chinese spy balloon reminds us. Sanders praised the soldiers’ national solidarity while warning of threats from China, Russia, and the Middle East.
But in some of Sanders’ speeches, her attempts to bring back Cold War centrism were nothing more than a flat front. This was especially true when she celebrated feminism and talked about the civil rights victories of the 1960s. The speech’s most memorable and sharp parts, filled with partisan hatred, were more substantial than this thin, middle-of-the-road surface. Since Sanders also imitated Donald Trump’s vulgar culture war rhetoric, it was easy to overlook JFK’s formal phrasing (he was never mentioned by name in her speech but was praised for his apparent success in economics and national security).
“The first man to lose his presidency to an awakened mob that can’t even tell you what a woman is,” Sanders said of Joe Biden.
She said, “In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and burns your hard-earned money, yet you get crushed by high gas prices and empty food shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another based on their race but not to love one another or our wonderful country.” She listed her accomplishments, saying, “Upon taking office just a few weeks ago, I signed Executive Orders to ban CRT, racism, and indoctrination in our schools; eliminate the use of the derogatory term “Latinx” in our government; repeal COVID orders; and never say again to authoritarian mandates and shutdowns. Regarding domestic matters, her assertion that she was increasing teacher compensation was the lone attempt to appeal to centrists.
Sanders asserts, “You may choose to be normal or crazy.” She ignores that, over the past eight presidential elections, only one candidate who supports right-wing cultural conflict has won the popular vote. The only exception was George W. Bush’s victory in 2004. In that election, he benefited from the 9/11 attacks’ enduring memory and the subsequent rise in nationalism and militarism. That would suggest that the majority of people reject Sanders’ concept of what is “normal.”
Regarding foreign policy, Sanders presented a dreadful scenario in which the United States only has adversaries to deal with and no rivals or allies to nurture. She cited another example of an ongoing conflict regarding domestic policy: the culture war that goes on forever between conventional white Christian hegemony and racial and sexual minorities. She imitates the militarized society of the early Cold War, giving her portrayal of JFK a dark, military tone.
Joe Biden enjoys referencing Kennedy as an Irish Catholic. Biden’s pursuit of great power competition with China and Russia poses a real threat of reviving the Cold War. However, unlike Sanders, Biden does not downplay the value of diplomacy.
However, domestic rehabilitation took centre stage in Biden’s speech rather than military action. For most of his state of the union address, Biden recalled the domestic politics of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Lyndon Johnson rather than the crusading internationalism of JFK.
Biden lamented that “the middle class has been hollowed out for decades… Far too many well-paying manufacturing jobs have relocated elsewhere. Factory closures occurred. Many of you represent cities and villages that were once bustling but are now ruins. He urged the creation of policies to counteract these trends. Sanders never stops talking about the cultural battle, but this focus on economic policy is very different.
Many things about Joe Biden can be criticized, but there is no denying that his outlook on the world and the Republicans are fundamentally different. Biden laid out a plan for restoring domestic harmony to the country. Sanders and other Republicans can only offer a long-lasting culture war stalemate in which Americans are asked to take on any burden, overcome any challenge, support any ally, and fight against any enemy to get rid of the word “Latinx.”