Joe Biden surprised America last night. The president gave a passionate, energized State of the Union address. The 73-minute speech was engaging and, reassuring. I worry about the president’s age and his upcoming decision on whether to run for reelection in 2024. The president was telling me and others, “Slow down, take a closer look at me, make sure you know who I am and how I’m doing before you make a decision on my future.”
A transcript of the entire speech, as delivered, is here.
Did the president craft his speech as a response to his doubters? Yes. Did he succeed? Maybe. The answer depends on what aspects of the Biden presidency you are focusing on. President Biden is to be applauded for his compassion and authenticity. His policies, for many of us, are another matter. America wants to see bipartisan cooperation. Last night the president talked the talk but did not walk the walk.
Prior to last night’s speech, the White House released previews that suggested he would build on his “Unity Agenda,” proposals designed to secure bipartisan support. The agenda includes more funding to fight cancer, expanded mental health resources, police reform, and better support for veterans and their families. These are proposals that, in a saner world, most Republicans would support. Good luck with that.
Republicans ask how will we pay for these new services? Biden’s answer, through higher taxes on billionaires and corporations, is a non-starter with the GOP. To Republicans, any tax increase opens the door to more, including tax increases for families making less than $400,000 a year. Republicans do not believe or trust the president.
The president also addressed the stalemate between Democrats and Republicans over raising the debt ceiling. Republicans are demanding spending cuts as a condition of acting. The president chided the Republicans on the issue, reiterating his opposition to compromise. That was not encouraging.
A majority of Biden’s speech was focused on the success of his first two years in office. The president’s approval ratings remain well below 50 percent. The president was saying, “You may think I’ve done nothing, but look at the facts.” Unfortunately for Biden, a majority of Democrats already know he has been a success but still don’t want him to run for re-election. The Republicans are not listening, having already concluded the administration is a disaster.
If the Republican response to the president’s “victory lap” is any indication as to how the speech was received in red states, the approach didn’t work. At least on TV, our Andy Harris was nowhere in sight. If he was in the chamber, he most likely was sitting on his hands like the rest of his caucus. Kevin McCarthy, the new House Speaker, on the other hand, was on screen for the entire hour and thirteen minutes of the speech. Maybe he is suffering from a hemorrhoid, but he seemed in real pain as he listened to Biden champion his accomplishments, make several callouts to unions, and call for higher taxes.
I suspect that the speaker was hoping a tired, tongue-tied president would show up. That did not happen. While the president did stumble over a few words, especially as he ad-libbed major parts of the speech, he compensated with passion and energy. The president told Americans he “has their back.” His words were convincing.
Passion and energy are two qualities needed in a president. But what about the ability to forge compromises? Given the state of the Republican party and the widening ideological chasm between the two parties, expecting compromise may be naïve. But if the Biden administration doesn’t step-up efforts to find common ground, the path back to civility and unity in government will be a long one.
At age 80, despite the energy displayed in his State of the Union address, is the president up to the task of bridging the political divide? If not, the Biden presidency is in trouble. . . .
Are you curious what the official Republican response to the State of the Union address? It was delivered by former Trump Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, now Governor of Arkansas. Here’s the heart of her speech:
“In the radical left’s America, Washington taxes you and lights your hard-earned money on fire, but you get crushed with high gas prices, empty grocery shelves, and our children are taught to hate one another on account of their race, but not to love one another or our great country. Whether Joe Biden believes this madness or is simply too weak to resist it, his administration has been completely hijacked by the radical left. The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left. The choice is between normal or crazy.”
If your stomach is up for it, you can read the entire Sanders speech here.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.
Letters to Editor
Mickey Terrone says
Hello John. I thought Biden’s speech was extremenly positive and an educational message for any and all doubters who happened to be listening. Unfortunately, the people who most needed to hear Biden were, as you suggested, just not listening.
It would very nearly take braindead zombie status for some of Biden’s achievements and proposed initiaves and plans not to sink in to blue-collar Republicans’ heads. If, for example, you doubt Biden’s promise not to further tax Americans making less than $400,000 per year, why should that put you off? In the next couple of years, Biden would be completely vulnerable if that promise turned out to be false. Remember GHW Bush’s promise of “No new taxes”? If Republicans truly believe Biden will fail in that promise, they’d be urging him to carry it out. But, Republicans are in abject fear that Biden can and will keep that promise while raising taxes on the rich and very rich.
Lest we forget, Biden has passed some significant legislation despite the slimmest of majorities in both Houses of Congress but the economic benefits for average Americans don’t fully kick in immediately in terms of our desire for immediate gratification. Much more should manifest itself in the next 18 months as inflation comes under better control. Its just too easy for any schmo to create a soundbite on CNN or FOX that they think America is moving in the wrong direction.
To think that so many of the logic-challenged “ultraconservatives” among us are against low cost health care, large corporations paying their fair share of taxes, limiting prescription costs for millions with chronic illnesses (among many other Biden Administration efforts) is discouraging, if not as sickening as listening to or reading Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ fear mongering, unsubstantiated response.
The utterly uncivilized shouting by the gutter snipe Republican congresswoman from Georgia and numerous of her degenerate extremist running dawgs is the clearest expression of the current problem in Washington. Radicals who themselves have attempted to overturn the free and fair election of 2020, can now control the agenda in the House that is supposed to be representing the best interests of average Americans.
The problem is not Joe Biden, or whether he runs again in 2024. The problem is those Republican Trumpists like Greene, Gohmert and Andy Harris, et al, who don’t even qualify as good Americans, much less good political leaders. Let’s quit casting doubt on Biden and pinpoint the real danger to America – Republican ideological extremism.
John Dean says
Thank you for an exceptionally substantive comment.
I tried to provide a neutral commentary on the speech, which was wildly praised on MSNBC (just watch a replay of Lawrence O’Donnell’s assessment) and condemned by right-wing media. In commenting on Biden’s emphasis on “tax the rich” and tax corporations was to emphasize that Republicans don’t trust him. I believe that higher taxes are needed and support a progressive tax system, but don’t like politicians promising new benefits to the public with the entire cost being passed on to someone else. I also think Democrats’ emphasis on “tax the rich” makes compromise on the debt ceiling and other legislation more difficult.
In any case, thank you for reading the piece and substantially adding to the conversation.
William Keppen says
I didn’t have to listen to all of Biden’s State of the Union, because it was too good. I only had to listen to a few minutes of SHS’s response, because it was so horrible. Joe exceeded my expectations, SHS did exactly what I expected from her.
John Dean says
Thank you for reading the piece.
I watched all of Biden but did not see the Sanders speech until Wednesday morning. I was as shocked and disgusted as you were.
Eric Ploeg says
It seems apparent that a segment of our population lives in some sort of bubble. I’m not sure if they feel sorry for Biden out of respect for seniors or it’s optimism since he’s what we’re stuck with….or more likely, loathing for Trump.
Bidens’ speech was surprisingly coherent as he made it through with only a bit of slurring and mumble.
You use “Victory Lap” describing Biden boasting of accomplishments and his own opinion of the “State of the Union”. He can claim anything he wishes and maybe the few living in the bubble realize benefits but those benefits haven’t trickled down into the general population yet. Biden’s approval rating is well below 50% for a reason.
Fact check some of the claims made and you’ll realize why McCarthy looked less than thrilled. At least he had the dignity to NOT rip up Biden’s speech.
IMHO, applauding Biden for the “State of the Union” today is like continuing to the decorate the ballroom on the Titanic.
Speaking as an Independent, this is the best America has?
John Dean says
Thank you for reading the piece. We are on different pages. Maybe I’m in the bubble because I’m grateful that the Trump assault on democracy was defeated. I also think we all will benefit by the infrastructure bill, especially from spending to combat climate change. I also think I benefit by more civility in government and Biden’s efforts to promote diversity, economic and social justice, and to protect the civil of rights of all of us.
All of that having been said, thank you for joining the conversation.
Wilson Dean says
This is an excellent article, doing a good job of portraying both Biden’s strengths and weaknesses. Bottom line, Biden is a decent person trying to do the best for all Americans. What a contrast with his predecessor!
I was sickened by the Republican extremists’ shouting and poor behavior. It only reflected their true objective of drawing attention to themselves and creating chaos. Fermenting hatred is their reason for being, for they know if they actually worked in a bipartisan way to solve this nation’s problems, that would signal their political demise.
John Dean says
Thank you for those kind words. I’m with you 1000 percent on the Republican heckling. There should be some House rule to discipline those that engage in this type of counterproductive behavior.
I look forward to the day when the Greenes, Gaetz’s and Boeberts are no longer in Congress.
Thanks for reading the piece.