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.