COMMENTARY

Biden calls out "domestic terrorism": That's important, but is it enough to shift the narrative?

In refusing to call out Tucker Carlson and Trump after Buffalo, the president is backing away from a fight

Published May 19, 2022 6:30AM (EDT)

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks after visiting a memorial near a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 17, 2022. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks after visiting a memorial near a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, on May 17, 2022. (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

The number of mass shootings in the U.S. over the last few decades dictates that we speak plainly and deal with it directly — and so far we've never done either one of those things. So Biden, speaking to reporters before leaving for Buffalo on Air Force One to mourn with the latest victims of a mass shooting, said it: "Look, part of what the country has to do is look in the mirror and face the reality. We have a problem with domestic terror. It's real."

No shit. And Biden was just as blunt speaking about domestic terrorism as he was in Poland a few weeks ago speaking about Vladimir Putin. There are many motives, many reasons behind the mass shootings. But the end result is always the same — to kill indiscriminately and by doing so to strike terror into anybody's hearts when they walk into mall, a church, a club, a restaurant or anyplace where people gather in large numbers.

To put that into perspective, I worried less about mass shootings while I was in Ukraine — and that country is at war.

RELATED: Fox News exploits Buffalo to further radicalize Republicans with "great replacement" 

Domestic terrorism didn't begin during the Biden administration, and it won't end anytime soon either. It's too ingrained in our lives — ignored, and sometimes encouraged, by members of Congress who won't confront the issue for a variety of obtuse reasons including greed, narcissism and ignorance.

Some blame Tucker Carlson and other harbingers of doom for stoking the fires. They aren't wrong. CNN's Jim Acosta called Fox News a "bullshit factory" this weekend — and he's not wrong there either. But it is far worse when so-called news providers are fomenting domestic terrorism — which is exactly what Carlson does with his Putin-loving, racist, angry and bitter rants. He seems, at times, to be an unrepentant bigot and other times merely a venal and vile huckster who knows better but doesn't care, because he garners ratings by preaching hate and fear to the uninformed.

Tucker Carlson sometimes seems to be an unrepentant bigot — and at other times merely a venal, vile huckster who knows better but doesn't care.

Biden has decided not to call out Tucker Carlson by name, as well as others who echo Carlson's pro-terrorist agenda. When the president disengages from the rhetoric he is trying to take the high road. The Republicans see that as a weakness. The GOP is adept and well-versed in the subtle art of dragging you into the gutter and beating you into senselessness with their anti-democratic rhetoric, the putrid bile in which they thrive. They no longer even pretend they are more than a minority party of authoritarians intent on making the world safe for white people and subjugating the rest of us to second-class citizenship or worse. It's the dying cry of bitterness, handed down from generations of privilege.

That was the central theme of Karine Jean-Pierre's statement to the press in her first briefing as White House press secretary this week. The Biden administration won't abide with "name-calling," Jean-Pierre said, and that's fine. Three times she took questions from reporters anxious to have Biden or a member of the administration call Carlson out for his diatribes. She never took the bait. Finally, when I asked her "You do know why they do that? They think you're backing away," she confronted that with the adult answer: "Name-calling" does nothing but add fire to a child's sandbox fight — the kind the Republicans thrive on.

After all, who wants to engage with a bunch of pre-pubescent crazies? Arguing with most members of the GOP is like arguing with a drunken relative at a backyard barbecue. And Democrats are often far too subtle in dealing with their drunken political relatives. Money, arrogance, ignorance, Christian zealots, wicked con men who'd steal money from cancer patients, hookers, clowns, defrocked clergy and apex sexual predators, molesters and hypocrites have joined together in some kind of Rat King convention that is today's Republican Party. The Democrats rarely call them out for their hypocrisy — and when they do, they merely sound like their Republican counterparts without the acidic insults.

The problem is that Democrats always give the GOP home-court advantage. They argue politics on the terms dictated to them from the far right: They react to accusations. They don't come out fighting. James Carville was among the first to recognize the battle can only be won when political arguments are framed in terms beneficial to and understood by a majority of the voting public. Hence his book: "We're Right. They're Wrong." Carville, a bit of a street fighter himself, is still popular among some Democrats, but others think that by merely looking down their noses at the Republicans that they can convince the majority of voters of the righteousness of their cause. To some, Carville is old news and they are as indifferent to him as they are to the rants of the misogynistic Republicans.


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The fact that we are still arguing about abortion, however, makes one wonder if both sides get it — or if the American public understands how truly disingenuous, disengaged or diseased our politics and politicians have become. It also proves that the righteousness of a cause doesn't ensure its success. That's why Carville is still relevant. He proves the old adage from Thomas Jefferson that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

More than 70 percent of Americans favor a woman's right to choose. Abortion remains one of the most bipartisan issues in this country. It shouldn't even be up for discussion. It's a settled issue — or at least it was. Now some employers are telling workers (Starbucks is one example) that if they want an abortion and can't get one in the future, the company will pay for an employee to travel where abortion is legal.

On the face of it, that appears to be a generous gesture. But it amounts to women losing both their right to choose and their right to privacy.

The Democrats continue to misinterpret the far right, and definitely do not understand the depth of its depravity. Nor will the solutions they seek be found in their current actions. It's not just, as Jean-Pierre pointed out, that the Democrats must avoid rolling in the gutter with what remains of the GOP. The Republicans are not a party that appeals to most Americans. In fact, they're not a political party that appeals to anyone with the ability of cogent thought, or anyone who seriously practices Christianity, even if party leaders claim otherwise.

But the Democrats need to define the fight — for a change. Not since Carville has there been anyone able to take the fight to the GOP by dragging them over to the Democratic side of the aisle and beating them up with facts.

Democrats simply don't understand the depth of the right's depravity, and they're unable to take the fight to the Republicans in an effective way.

The fall of Rep. Madison Cawthorn to state Sen. Chuck Edwards in the GOP primary for North Carolina's 11th district shows there are still some signs of life in the traditional Republican Party, even in the South. But it took a hell of a rant from Cawthorn to enrage the party. As was recently reported, he sparked an uproar when he claimed on a podcast that he was invited to a Washington orgy and had personally seen leading Republicans doing cocaine. He also recently called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy a "thug" and the Ukrainian government "incredibly evil."

It gives one hope that Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene may soon be headed for the unemployment office as well. But those in the Republican Party who are equally dangerous, yet make less noise, could be successful in the fall and scuttle any progress we've made since Donald Trump slithered out of town.

If the GOP cleans up its own mess ahead of the midterm elections, the Democrats have a tough road ahead — even if they can toss around terms like "Putin's puppets" as an accurate description of some Republican officeholders, and even if they can make political hay out of women being denied their right to choose.

When it comes to the big issues, Democrats have often been ignorant of the emotional pull those issues have on voters. The Republicans deal in raw emotions while the Democrats remain incredibly inept at framing political arguments, even if they have the majority behind them.

As usual, the president was better speaking about that particular issue than any of his staff. Before he got on Air Force One he offered a plain statement that speaks volumes, not just about domestic terrorism, but about all politics in the U.S.:

And, look, there is a lot of people, like this murderer who committed this act, who are just deranged, who are susceptible, who are — who are just lost and don't know what to do, and they're easily taken — they're easily sucked in. And it's got to stop. We have to admit it. I don't know why we don't admit what the hell is going on.

I don't understand it either, particularly from a Democratic Party that claims it has a better idea. The Republicans won't admit what's going on because they're behind much of the dissatisfaction in this country that sucks people in and drives them to commit acts of violence.

Democrats have yet to learn how to address that issue and move the country forward, so we're stuck in a continuing loop of fear, violence and name-calling, like NPCs in a video game that keep on running into the walls.

Read more on the Buffalo shooting and its aftermath:


By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East, and is the author of seven books, including "Free the Press," due out this fall.

MORE FROM Brian Karem


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Buffalo Shooting Commentary Domestic Terrorism Elections Joe Biden Republicans