Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Tracking a Journalistic Cliché: “The Worst Attack on Our Democracy Since the Civil War”

By Matt Taibbi and Matt Orfalea

In the first installment of “TK Mashup,” a piece of a Joe Biden speech quickly becomes the ostensibly original thoughts of cable news anchors.

On April 28th of this year, Joe Biden gave one of the first big speeches of his presidency, addressing a Joint Session of Congress. “I stand here tonight, just one day shy of the 100th day of my administration,” he said. “One hundred days since I took the oath of office, lifted my hand off our family Bible, and inherited a nation in crisis.”

He went on:

“The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.

Presidential speeches are more like corporate productions than individual literary efforts. A key aide or team of aides may write the first draft — adviser Mike Donilon is said to have authored this one — and from there, other cooks in the kitchen fight over the ingredients.

One wants to remove a line, a second tries to add one, and a third will battle over run time or location. According to speechwriter David Frum, George Bush’s famed “Axis of Evil” line was also delivered to a Joint Session, because Karl Rove believed his boss was better before audiences than before “the silent eye of a television camera.”

No one has said where exactly the line “worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War” came from.

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