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Jonathan Bernstein

Biden Stuck Up for Democracy in Buffalo

A blunt speech about racism by a president known for his empathy framed a mass killing motivated by bigotry into an attack on all Americans.

Not just an empathy president.

Not just an empathy president.

Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

President Joe Biden spoke in Buffalo on Tuesday after visiting the families of victims of a racist mass shooting in a supermarket there on Saturday. It was a speech that’s likely to get lost in the current-events shuffle, but it shouldn’t. It was a good one, well written and well delivered, and hitting on the necessary themes of combating hatred and defending democracy. And beyond the important topic, it also demonstrated a lot about representation and presidenting.

What was striking about the speech was how Bidenesque it was, combining all of his leading traits as a public figure. Biden displayed the empathy that was a central part of his campaign — how losing loved ones is something he understands from repeated personal experience. It’s worth noting, by the way, that Biden is hardly unique among presidents in having lost family members; that it has become so much a part of his political persona is in part about the tragedies he’s endured, but it’s also a choice he’s made to base much of his representational style on empathy.