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CLARENCE PAGE: Biden’s straight talk faces Trump’s doublespeak

He’s alive!

After watching his widely praised speech at the socially distanced Democratic National Convention, I wondered when Joe Biden would come out of his basement again, even if it was only to give a little balance to the whoppers pouring out of the White House.

If the political rise of President Donald Trump has taught us anything, it is the importance of a candidate expressing his or her beliefs with a passion and commitment that says they’re speaking on behalf of voters.

As this year’s race comes down to the wire, we know Trump is behind in the polls, but not by much. In fact, he’s nail-bitingly close to where the race looked four years ago at this point.

But this time he is burdened by two crises that he didn’t create himself: the coronavirus and the national racial reckoning and protests that have followed the death of George Floyd.

In response, Team Trump turns to his long-established tactics: distractions, deflection and the demonization of his rivals. The result has been the creation of a new Trump-style doublespeak that, for example, led the White House to describe Trump’s trip to racially troubled Kenosha, Wis., on Tuesday as “unifying.”

It’s too bad that wasn’t true. Kenosha has been reeling from days of demonstrations and destruction unleashed by the police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back. That was followed by the arrest of Kyle Rittenhouse, a white teen from Antioch, Ill. The self-styled vigilante was charged with fatally shooting two white Black Lives Matter protesters and wounding a third in Kenosha.

It was about time for Biden to speak up, and in his own speech on crime and safety Monday in Pittsburgh, he did. Forcefully.

“Does anyone believe there will be less violence in America if Donald Trump is re-elected?” Biden said. “We need justice in America. We need safety in America. We’re facing multiple crises — crises that, under Donald Trump, have kept multiplying.”

But he didn’t just attack his opponent, Biden also attacked those who created a sense of disorder and lawlessness.

“I want to be clear about this,” he said. “Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. None of this is protesting — it’s lawlessness — plain and simple. And those who do it should be prosecuted.”

Amen. Tough-on-crime rhetoric is nothing new for Biden. Yet, how conveniently Trump and his allies seem to have forgotten the heat Biden has taken from the left for some of his past positions, such as the 1994 crime bill.

Looking back, that seems like an uncommonly sensible time in which both parties tried to bring right and left together, not just play to their bases.

“I’m in this campaign for you, no matter your color, no matter your ZIP code. No matter your politics,” Biden said. “When I think about the presidency, I don’t think about myself. This isn’t about my brand. This is about you. We can do better. We must do better. And I promise this: We will do better.”

That’s the good old familiar Biden voice that has attracted Democrats and independents alike. Biden has been issuing his come-together call since early in the primaries.

But his most memorable line probably came with his rebuff of Trump’s political smears: “You know me,” he said, looking straight into the cameras. “You know my heart, and you know my story, my family’s story. Ask yourself: Do I look to you like a radical socialist with a soft spot for rioters? Really?”

Sure, there are people on the hard-right who will say, “Heck, yeah,” or words to that effect. But Joe’s alive.

For the swing voters, particularly suburban women, who have been sliding away from Biden for fear of the contrived “cancel the suburbs” and “abolish the police” movements that Trump rants about, the real Joe Biden offers a familiar voice of reasonableness that today’s politics badly need.

Contact Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.

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