A State of Union address is a weird animal. As a writer, I find it to be an extremely clumsy rhetorical device.
For one thing, it’s not easy for a president to keep people glued to a screen for an 80-minute speech without a bathroom or commercial break, no matter how many people draped in gaudy white fur scream “Liar!” during his address. Yeah, that happened, again.
The thing about a State of the Union address is that it’s generally less about good writing than the president just trying to make it through a politically calculated laundry list of campaign promises. No matter what you do, short of stretching the damned thing to two or three hours, the mention of somebody’s cherished pet project is going to end up on the cutting-room floor. Some of mine certainly did.
That means the precious seconds or minutes any one topic receives, at least as far as the president and his speechwriters are concerned, says a lot about how much the president cares about an issue, or at least how many political points he thinks can be scored.
So, instead of offering a mind-numbing point-by-point analysis of President Joe Biden’s marathon address, here’s my biggest takeaways.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Biden’s age.
Okay, we get it, Biden’s old, and sometimes he stutters, the latter of which is a disability not a vice.
As for how old he is, as Biden might say, give me a break.
Being 80 does not necessarily mean he’s ready for a nursing home. There are plenty of people who are 80 something and older who remain professionally and intellectually vibrant: Jane Fonda is 85, Dolores Huerta is 90, Rita Moreno is 91, Rep. Maxine Waters is 83, Sen. Richard Shelby is 87, and the list goes on.
People get old. Get used to it, America, because, on average, we’re getting older all the time.
Bottom line: I’d much rather have this guy running the country now than most of the last 10 presidents, including, and especially, the last guy who occupied the Oval Office.
Biden’s been in politics for 50 years, which shows in his grasp of the issues and talent for governing, which, last I checked, is a major requirement for the job.
While his gait is slowing, he seems fully in control of his faculties and his agenda — and I happen to appreciate that, unlike Trump, he’s not planning to overthrow the government.
Frankly, Biden’s stamina is pretty amazing. Being president is a grueling, round-the-clock, high-stress job. One minute you’re worrying about keeping Ukraine from collapsing in the face of Russia’s military onslaught, the next you’re ordering a Chinese spy balloon shot out of the sky — and between all of that you’re racking your brain about how to keep people from being killed by COVID-19 or crazed gunmen.
So, rather than harp on how old Biden is, how about we look at what Biden’s done?
In the past two years, Biden has pulled us through the worst of the pandemic, not by lying to us the way Trump did and claiming that COVID was just going to magically “disappear” but by giving us the cold hard truth and implementing an effective, if imperfect, national vaccination plan.
Nearly 85% of adults in the U.S. have now had at least one full round of COVID vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a country rife with election- and COVID deniers (often one in the same), that’s a pretty good track record.
The pandemic is not over — COVID is still killing us at more than twice the daily rate as car-crashes and gun fatalities combined — but the death rate has dropped dramatically, kids are back to school nationwide, and the White House is planning to order an end to the federal public health emergency declaration in May.
For the record, I still wear my mask around crowds indoors, even though I’m triple boosted, but leaving the house no longer feels like a death wish.
Biden also delivered good news on the economy Tuesday night.
The unemployment rate, at 3.4%, is the lowest it’s been since 1969, the year Santana played Woodstock and the first humans landed on the moon.
A stunning 517,000 jobs were created last month, and about 400,000 jobs a month were added to the economy in 2022.
On the downside, the rate of inflation, which has ravaged economies around the world and always hits the poor the hardest, has dropped in the U.S. for the past six months and that trend is expected to continue.
The price of gasoline is down by a lot. Yet, let’s face it, presidents have little to do with fluctuating prices at the gas pumps. Instead, we can blame COVID-related supply chain issues, Russian despot Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and the decision by our so-called ally, Saudi Arabia, to hike the price of crude oil just ahead of the midterm elections. (No surprise: The Saudis love Trump almost as much as they hate democracy.)
Where does our economy go from here? My prediction, which, granted, is about as good as almost any big shot economist out there: There will be no recession for at least the next two years.
On bipartisanship: most politicians talk a big talk, but Biden has delivered.
The president passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that’s now on track to create an estimated 700,000 to 1 million new jobs over the next 10 years. The president’s bipartisan Inflation Reduction Act, meanwhile, is aimed at addressing climate change, lowering punishing healthcare costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, and boosting the Internal Revenue Service’s ability to go after wealthy tax scofflaws. (Trump, let’s remember, gave the rich a nearly $2 trillion tax break.)
Will Biden’s pursuit of bipartisanship continue? The pursuit, yes. The attainment, less likely.
Look at who he has to work with in the GOP-led House of Representatives. We’re talking about people who scream “liar” at him during the State of the Union with no evidence that he lied — as Biden said in his speech, “Look it up!” — and all while championing a pathological liar (no, not George Santos) holed up in Mar-a-Lago who’s still spreading the Big Lie and proving on an almost daily basis his total disregard for a constitutional democracy.
Oh, just that.
So, don’t expect a lot of major bipartisan legislative accomplishments in the next two years, which is probably why the president didn’t spend a lot of time talking about abortion rights, voting rights, immigration and gun control.
All of these topics received honorable and even impassioned mentions but little serious airtime. For now, at least, the president seems to have concluded that he won’t be able to get much done in those areas until, if and when, the Democrats regain control of Congress and the White House.
Until then, Biden’s most powerful political weapon may be his veto pen, which even at the ripe old age of 80 he seems more than adept at wielding when the time is right.
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