Why Biden's Speechwriter Should Ditch the Isaiah References

August 27, 2021

Following the attacks on Hamid Karzai International Airport that killed 13 American soliders, President Biden addressed the nation in a speech that, surprisingly, quoted from the Book of Isaiah.

Here's that passage:

Those who have served through the ages have drawn inspiration from the Book of Isaiah, when the Lord says, “Whom shall I send . . . who shall go for us?” And the American military has been answering for a long time: “Here am I, Lord. Send me.” “Here I am. Send me.”

Each one of these women and men of our armed forces are the heirs of that tradition of sacrifice of volunteering to go into harm’s way, to risk everything — not for glory, not for profit, but to defend what we love and the people we love.

And I ask that you join me now in a moment of silence for all those in uniform and out uniform — military and civilian, who have given the last full measure of devotion.

A bizarre choice

The Isaiah quote is an odd choice. In the Book of Isaiah, the phrase "Here am I, Lord. Send me" is not spoken by a warrior volunteering for military service. It's spoken by Isaiah volunteering to deliver God's messages.

What kind of messages? One of the main themes of the Book of Isaiah is God's judgment on his own people. For example, one message reads: "Your men shall fall by the sword and your mighty men in battle."

So, the prophet who said “Here am I, Lord. Send me." spoke of a God-appointed destruction of his own nation — and its military — at the hand of a foreign power.

The Bible and political speech

American Presidents have commonly quoted the Bible and used its allusions — such as "city on a hill" — in their speeches. And the practice has a long history stretching from the founding of the nation.

These communications called Americans to live nobly and helped to shape our "self-understanding" as a nation.

But politicians on both sides of the aisle may also quote the Bible to create an aura of divine approval on wars, policies, and events; to manipulate constituencies; and to shield themselves from criticism or accountability.

It seems reasonable, therefore, to view such expressions with caution: they're often used for purposes of political propaganda and persuasion.

Addressing national crises

It's also traditional for U.S. Presidents to cite the Bible at times of national tragedies — such as the attack on the airport.

One reason may be because biblical passages — even though they're translated from the original Hebrew or Greek into English — often sound lofty and solemn. The tone may appear to fit the mood that the speechwriter desires to set.

However, by using such phrases entirely out of context the communication becomes meaningless.

Presidents — and their speechwriters — should instead speak plainly. And be wary of invoking the Bible.