"Freedom" was the first word out of President Joe Biden's mouth in the video announcing his official 2024 bid for re-election.
Team Biden tossed aside a focus on his economic agenda for a values-based argument about the fundamental freedoms at stake in the next election. The president's follow-up ad, "Flag," released Wednesday, provided an exclamation point to the pitch.
Courage, democracy, and freedom are "under attack," says the ad's narrator, "by an extreme movement that seeks to overturn elections, ban books, and eliminate a woman's right to choose."
Contrasting flag-waving people of color with raw Jan. 6 footage of a horde of white insurrectionists storming the Capitol, the ad declares, "Joe Biden has made defending our basic freedoms the cause of his presidency."
Team Biden's emphasis on freedom likely comes as a shock to a host of political analysts, who recently warned that Biden's inner circle was leery of engaging in divisive culture war issues and instead wanted to exclusively focus on the president's economic accomplishments.
Last month, Ron Brownstein wrote in The Atlantic that "the dominant view" within Biden's inner circle was that the best response to the GOP's culture-war blitz is to "engage with it as little as possible."
With the exception of abortion rights, Biden, by contrast, is working to downplay or defuse almost all cultural issues. Instead Biden is targeting his communication with the public almost exclusively on delivering tangible economic benefits to working-class families, such as lower costs for insulin, the protection of Social Security and Medicare, and the creation of more manufacturing jobs.
Brownstein's reporting certainly rang true in the lead-up to Biden's announcement. The president devoted the first several weeks of April to his Investing in America tour, with both him and his cabinet fanning out across the U.S. to plug major Biden administration investments in manufacturing and infrastructure.
Following the announcement Tuesday, Biden got right back to work on the economic front. By lunchtime, the president was at the North America's Building Trade Unions (NABTU) conference bashing the Republican Party's fealty to "trickle-down economics."
"They believe the best way to grow the economy is from the top down," Biden explained. "Like many of you, not much trickled down to my dad’s kitchen table."
Several hours later, Vice President Kamala Harris would be at Howard University, urging students to "stand and fight” for their "hard-earned freedoms" currently under attack.
Simply put, the White House is walking and chewing gum at the same time, deploying Biden to an economic event while sending Harris to deliver a values-based argument. It's a formulation that will likely repeat itself.
But Biden also seems intent on personally leaning into the country's existential battle for freedom—an umbrella term that comfortably covers the GOP assault on everything from bodily autonomy and the right to self-determination to something as basic as the pursuit of happiness.
The president’s latest ad ticks through several specific freedoms currently at risk: the freedom of women to make their own healthcare decisions, of children to be safe from gun violence, the freedom to vote and have it counted, and for seniors to live with dignity.
The ad concludes, "For freedom, for democracy, for America: Joe Biden."
That's not the spot of a candidate looking to duck the fundamental fight of our time.
Biden must continue to sell his accomplishments—many Americans still aren’t aware of them and they will serve as the basis for his argument that he deserves four more years. For many voters, the economic pitch is essential because the fear of Republican rule won't be compelling enough to ensure a vote in favor of a second term.
But freedom is the anthem of Democratic base voters, and many of Democrats' most loyal constituencies have been caught in the crosshairs of the Republican Party's war on it. Firing up those critical base voters will take a consistent emphasis on the personal freedoms we all risk losing if Republicans prevail in retaking the White House next year.
Winning in 2024 will take a two-pronged approach that engages swing voters while animating the base. So far, Team Biden appears very mindful of both.
The past week seems to have packed in a month’s worth of news. Markos and Kerry tackle it all, from Joe Biden’s big announcement to Tucker Carlson’s early retirement from Fox News.