WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 02:  U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on preserving and protecting Democracy at Union Station on November 2, 2022 in Washington, DC. Biden addressed the threat of election deniers and those who seek to undermine faith in voting in the upcoming midterm elections. (Photo by Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images)
Biden warns of 'path to chaos' ahead of midterms
02:19 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show” and a columnist for The Daily Beast. Follow him @DeanObeidallah. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

A line from President Joe Biden’s national address Wednesday about our democracy being on the ballot made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. It came about halfway through the speech when the President stated: “What we’re doing now is going to determine whether democracy will long endure.”

Dean Obeidallah

This line jumped out for two reasons. First, here’s a President in 2022 urging Americans to understand that our democracy could end if not protected from anti-democratic, autocratic forces. And secondly, it was the words “long endure” that instantly conjured up that identical phrase used by President Abraham Lincoln in his historic Gettysburg address, delivered in the midst of the Civil War.

Lincoln gave that address on November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the memorial for those soldiers killed in the bloody Battle of Gettysburg that had taken place four months earlier. He began by noting that our nation was “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” He then added, “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.”

It was unlikely an accident that Biden invoked that same phrase of “long endure.” But the glaring difference is that in the midst of the Civil War, Americans did not need to be convinced that our nation’s democracy – as well as the future of our country – was at risk. Today, however, despite Biden recently delivering two national addresses focused on our democracy being in peril – the first in September – it doesn’t feel like enough Americans believe the danger is real or think that it is as important as other issues right now.

Biden, though, was right when he said, “Recent polls have shown an overwhelming majority of Americans believe our democracy is at risk, that our democracy’s under threat.” But saying you are concerned about an issue and that issue being why you cast your ballot are two different things – as the polls back up.

CNN’s September/October poll found 85% of voters said “voting rights and election integrity” are at least very important to them. But when an October CNN poll of registered voters asked which is “most important” when casting a ballot this November, the top issue at 51% was the economy/inflation. Next came abortion at 15%, followed by gun policy at 8%. Then – at number four – came “Voting rights and election integrity”– with only 7% saying it was the “most important” issue.

While other polls like a recent one conducted by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist found more voters who agreed that preserving democracy was a top issue, even then it was seen by only 28% of voters as such. If Americans feared deep down that democracy could end based on the results of this election, those numbers would likely be far higher. After all, we all understand inflation is temporary but losing our democracy could be permanent.

Even former President Barack Obama was sounding alarm bells about democracy being on the ballot in his speech the same night as Biden’s national address at a rally in the battleground state of Arizona. The former President warned the audience that if the election denying candidates running for the state’s top offices – like GOP gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake – win, “then democracy as we know it may not survive in Arizona.” Obama added, “That’s not an exaggeration. That is a fact.”

The threat, though, is not just in Arizona. As Biden explained Wednesday, election deniers are “on the ballot all across America this year.” This is backed up by the Washington Post’s recent reporting that a majority of the GOP nominees on the ballot this year for the House, Senate and statewide office have denied or questioned the results of the 2020 election. We have never seen anything like this in our lifetimes – if ever in the history of the United States.

And if these “democracy deniers” – as I believe they should be called – win, they will potentially be able to become democracy killers. They won’t need another January 6-type violent attack designed to prevent the transfer of power – instead, these people can simply refuse to certify the results of an election if they don’t agree with the outcome.

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    During his address Wednesday, President Biden told Americans: “In our bones, we know democracy is at risk.” For some Americans, that is very true. But for many others it appears they simply don’t believe in “their bones” that our democratic Republic can end, despite the obvious threats, both recent and ongoing, which include the efforts of Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election results and the hundreds of GOP election deniers on the ballot.

    Lincoln closed his Gettysburg Address with the powerful line that we must resolve that our “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” That same challenge is presented to us today. And unless we unite to cast a ballot to defeat those who pose a threat to democracy, it’s truly unlikely that our democratic Republic will indeed “long endure.”