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President Joe Biden’s Memorial Day address calls for defense of democracy: ‘Liberty and union, now and forever’

President Biden delivers the Memorial Day Address at the 153rd National Memorial Day Observance, Arlington National Cemetery, May 31, 2021. (White House/Released)

President Joe Biden in his Memorial Day address called on Americans to join the “battle of our time” — a struggle for democracy over autocracy and oppression — to honor those buried at Arlington National Cemetery and around the world who “gave their all” for the United States.

Biden sought to comfort families of the fallen — referencing pain and pride for his son, Beau Biden, the former Delaware attorney general and a major in the Army National Guard who died of cancer in 2015 — and to fire up Americans against ongoing attacks on democratic norms, decency and freedom, both abroad and at home.

Biden invoked former U.S. Sen. Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, arguing the New England statesman’s 1830 cry of “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable” resonates “even now.”

“Democracy must be defended at all costs,” Biden said. “That’s the soul of America. And I believe it’s a soul worth fighting for. A soul worth dying for. The soul of America is animated by the perennial battle between our worst instincts — which we’ve seen of late — and our better angels. Between ‘Me first’ and ‘We the people,’ between greed and generosity, cruelty and kindness, captivity and freedom … between dreams for democracy and the appetite for autocracy.”

American troops, Biden said, have “fought this battle, but it’s also the battle of our time … Democracy itself is at peril, here at home and around the world. How we honor the memory of the fallen will determine whether or not democracy will endure.”

The president did not mention his predecessor, nor did Biden address restrictive voting laws proposed in dozens of states — which he called “un-American” on Saturday — nor political polarization in Congress.

But Biden argued in favor of voting rights, economic opportunities for all, free speech and freedom of the press — hallmarks of democracy and a way of life that he said American service members fought and died for.

Empathy, Biden said, is the “fuel of liberty,” and he called on Americans to “see each other as neighbors, not as enemies, and even when we disagree, to understand each other.”

“Unity is essential to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” Biden added. “Remember those who gave their all in the cause of liberty and the cause of union.”

The speech came after Biden, joined by first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier commemorating service members whose remains have not been identified.


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