In June of 1992, Bill Clinton responded to the remarks of a political activist named Sister Souljah and thereby established what has come to be known as the Sister Souljah moment. Souljah had voiced support for Black-on-white violence. Clinton had been courting Black support up to that point in his presidential campaign, but he went right after Souljah by comparing her comment (if the races had been reversed) to David Duke’s racist attitudes.
Clinton took a lot of heat for his attack on Souljah, most notably from Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was a leading voice in the Black community at the time. But the play by Clinton wasn’t to gain Black votes. It was to make him more appealing to white voters, and, based on the election results in November of 1992, it must be credited as having succeeded.
Joe Biden and Donald Trump are saying pretty much what they need to say to lock in their bases of support. As a result, they are unlikely to lose any of the votes from their most devoted fans. But the election won’t be decided by the bases. It will be decided by the few who are undecided or are just now starting to look at the candidates. And, therefore, both men need their own Sister Souljah moments.
So, as an intended, if unsolicited, assist to both men’s campaigns, I am happy to offer the essence of the speeches each candidate should give between now and election day if they want to enhance their chances with that small block of voters who will probably decide who will be sitting in the Oval Office after January 20, 2021.
Biden needs more than a few Sister Souljah moments, so the following suggestions may be best delivered in a series of speeches. I’ll present them here in relative order of importance (based on the number of votes likely to be gained).
“First, while every American citizen has the constitutional right to protest peacefully, no one has the right to engage in violence, and we have had far too much violence in some of our cities. Whether these acts of violence are perpetrated by the protesters themselves or by others seeking to take advantage of the protests to foment discord, the actors are criminals.
“No one who seeks to damage property or cause injury to anyone should be allowed to excuse their acts by claiming they are fighting for a cause. No cause, no matter how otherwise commendable, justifies the destruction of property and injury to human life.
“And perpetrators of violence have no place in my campaign. If, as has been alleged, the group known as Antifa believes it will have safe haven in a Biden administration, I declare now that it will not. I disavow Antifa and other radical groups seeking to tear our society apart. I want no support from them and reject any support they offer to my campaign.
“Second, I pledge that a Biden administration will be committed to keeping our communities free of violence, especially when the victims of much of that violence are minority-owned businesses and other lawful Americans who are trying to live the American dream by their own enterprise. Lawlessness invites anarchy, and democracy cannot long survive when anarchy reigns.
“Third, I want to express my support for the multitude of police officers and law enforcement officials who strive to secure the safety of their communities. At the same time, we must rid police forces of the few who should not be wearing the uniform and carrying a firearm. And we must do more to train our police officers in the appropriate use of limited force when necessary, with respect for all human life being of utmost importance in all law-enforcement encounters with civilians.
“We may seek to adjust the way funds for law enforcement are spent, but I do not support the concept of “defunding” the police. We gain nothing as a society by seeking to reduce the ability of law enforcement officials to keep us safe and secure.
“Fourth, my administration will restore the means for engaging in thoughtful dialogue. I reject the idea that contrary views should be shamed or otherwise forced into silence. The Cancel Culture that currently exists among some who believe they see the only true path to social justice is anathema to the freedom of speech that is the cornerstone of our constitutional liberties.
“Therefore, I will seek to reinvigorate public discourse and debate and will appoint to my administration representatives of different ideological perspectives with the goal of gaining the broadest representation of responsible thoughts on any issue of current concern. I will have an administration that is as diverse in terms of what Americans are thinking as it will be in terms of how Americans look.
“Fifth, my administration will seek gun reform, but it will not deny the constitutional right of responsible gun ownership. Guns are lawfully used in our country for hunting, for sport (in target practice and skeet shooting), and to secure protection of our homes and families. Gun ownership is part of the American culture, and while there are some who, because of past criminal history or mental disease, must not be permitted to own guns, for the vast majority of Americans, a Biden administration will honor and respect gun ownership.
“Sixth, my administration will seek responsible immigration reform, beginning with permanent lawful status for all DACA residents. The greatness of America has always been due, in part, to being a country of immigrants. But we must also protect the way of life that the vast majority of our residents enjoy. Responsible immigration policy must, therefore, limit immigration so as to avoid over-crowded communities and institutions, while supporting the right to seek asylum and to better one’s life by realizing the American dream.
“Seventh, I pledge to seek reform of our antiquated laws on drugs, starting with a nation-wide decriminalization of marijuana use. Marijuana should be regulated like alcohol and tobacco, unless and until it is definitively proven that it is more harmful than those forms of social pleasure. I will also commission studies of other drugs and will seek to reform the way we treat those who are addicted or are otherwise dependent on narcotics.
“And finally, I pledge that I will honor our institutions, starting with the institution of the presidency. I will reinstitute the traditional White House briefings and will hold regularly scheduled presidential press conferences. In so doing, I will show respect for the press and those who try to keep Americans informed. If I get tough questions for decisions I have made, I will try to answer them honestly. If anyone in my administration is accused of wrong-doing or of ethical improprieties, I will instruct them to appear before Congressional committees and will not abuse Congressional prerogatives with claims of executive privilege.
“I cannot promise that I will be perfect in all of these pledges, but I can and do promise to seek to restore pride in how we relate to being Americans. We can do better. We must do better. I will lead the way to a better future as we continue the great experiment that is the United States of America.”
Trump doesn’t need to say much, but what he does need to say will require a major change in his campaign persona. Thus, his task may be more onerous than Biden’s. But he only needs to add a few lines to his standard talking points. I’ll try to write them for him here, fully expecting that he will go off script, even if he does manage to stay on message.
“As I pledge to continue making America great again, I do want to acknowledge clearly and indisputably that Black lives do matter. I pledge to seek justice in all instances of police brutality against people of color. And I hereby reject completely any support from racist groups or individuals who fail to acknowledge that skin color is never an acceptable basis for discrimination.
“And can we all finally agree, once and for all, that this pandemic is real. It’s time for all of us to get behind our public health experts in fighting Covid-19. I will take the lead by wearing a mask in public, by ensuring that all of my campaign events feature social distancing, and by recognizing the great harm the virus is doing to our low-income residents most of all.
“I also pledge to have an open attitude about views that conflict with those I hold. We are a country where differing views should not be interpreted as disloyalty. Within my administration, I will welcome differing perspectives from my own. And I will seek to understand the rationale for those perspectives.
“I will also refrain from making comments in social media that may be considered offensive. I will show the same respect for members of the opposing party and others who disagree with me that I hope they will show for me. I seek a more tolerant country, one in which everyone can feel valued, irrespective of their views on any specific issue.”
“And in foreign affairs, I pledge to seek to re-unify America’s time-honored alliances in NATO and other international organizations. I will support the United Nations in its efforts to bring peace to war-torn parts of the world and to keep the peace elsewhere. And I will speak out against countries that lack democratic governments and have autocratic rule.
“In short, I will continue to make America great again by rebuilding those institutions, both domestically and internationally, that had made the country great before. And, finally, I will stop pretending that Mexico is going to pay for the wall, assuming we ever get it built.”
Okay, Trump’s not going to say that last one, but I submit that if either candidate adopts even some of these points in his speeches from now until election day, he will secure a vast majority of the undecided, independent voters and soar to victory. And, assuming he is true to the pledges he will have made, the country will be all the better for it.