On Thursday evening, President Joe Biden used a rare prime-time speech to the nation to condemn Donald Trump, attack “MAGA Republicans” and caution that his political opposition threatens American democracy.
This speech will be remembered for its backdrop of U.S. Marines as much as for Biden’s incendiary rhetoric. Heads ought to roll at the Pentagon for Biden politicizing our military.
Biden spoke outside Independence Historical Park in Philadelphia before hundreds of people with the façade of Independence Hall lit in red and blue.
Notably, two Marines in full dress uniform stood like statues at parade rest, always in the television picture as bookends for Biden. The Marine Corps band played patriotic music, and earlier this week those military musicians played at another Keystone State political event to promote Democrats.
Biden used the occasion to tell his audience, “This is where the United States Constitution was written and debated. … But as I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault.”
There is something terribly wrong with this picture. The Marines — props and musicians — were part of Biden’s political theater, which violates the law.
No doubt Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, a retired Army four-star general, and the current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, knew beforehand about the political nature of the speech thanks to administration officials who teased it as an extension of Biden’s “soul of the nation” message given in 2017.
Of course, both Austin and Milley know it is illegal for uniformed personnel to support crass political events, and Biden’s performance in Philadelphia was pure political theater on steroids.
Certainly, Milley knows political theater from experience. He expressed regret for accompanying Trump on a walk from the White House to St. John’s Church following the dispersal of “peaceful protesters” outside the White House in June 2020. Subsequently, Milley said his appearance with Trump “created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” Is Milley going to issue yet another mea culpa?
Why didn’t Austin and Milley call out Biden for politicizing our troops? After all, these men know that every political season, like the one we are entering now, the Pentagon mandates that all civil servants and uniformed service members refresh their understanding of the dos and don’ts of political activities. It’s serious stuff, and failure to abide by the law can cost a career.
The facts in this case are hardly disputable: Biden’s speech was political, and U.S. Marines played an integral role in the event — certainly an endorsing role.
Biden used the speech to slam Trump, Republicans questioning the 2020 presidential election and Trump’s 75 million “MAGA” supporters. He stigmatized all Trump supporters, saying they “represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.” He continued, “They do not believe in the rule of law. They do not recognize the will of the people. They refuse to accept the results of a free election.”
Even Allison Jaslow, a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told CNN, “We need to make sure that our military is as removed from politics as possible and it’s not right if a Democrat uses the military as a political pawn.” Jaslow continued, “It is very clear that a political message was being elevated through this event.”
What makes the Marines’ participation in Biden’s political theater illegal?
The Pentagon has a version of the 1939 Hatch Act, which restricts federal employees from participating in certain partisan political activities. Specifically, Department of Defense directive 1344.10 states that under certain conditions, service members shall not participate in partisan political events, television programs, gatherings and much more.
That military directive is the same as an order, and military personnel violating its provisions can be considered in violation of Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The maximum punishment for a violation of Article 92 is dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for two years.
No one is suggesting that the two Marines ordered to stand motionless as props for Biden’s partisan speech should be court-martialed. However, Biden’s military advisers either failed to tell the commander in chief not to politicize our military or, if they did, they should resign because they no longer have influence at the White House. Rather, political expediency trumps the law for the present occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Politicizing the military is dangerous for a constitutional republic. Biden’s abuse of our military to legitimatize his partisan political attacks on Republicans is beyond the pale, and those who ordered such support ought to be summarily dismissed.
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