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Biden Battles for His Job in Turbulent State of the Union

A swing and a miss for the president.

This was not so much a State of the Union address as a State of Joe Biden’s Presidential Campaign. Delivering a strikingly partisan performance at last night’s (March 7) event, the president ran the gamut on his favored talking points – a large chunk of which involved “his predecessor.” As this was an address aimed at winning the November election, the critical question must be whether he moved the needle for those who are not already committed Biden voters.

A Rocky Start

Unusually, the president began his speech by talking about Ukraine and the dangers posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin rather than the actual union. In terms of taking the mood of the country, Mr. Biden may have been off track. While the majority of Americans see the conflict in Ukraine as important, a Gallup survey from this year suggests that foreign policy and a focus on overseas issues is a priority for between 2% and 3% of the public.

Insisting that more dollars must be sent to the embattled nation, he swiftly turned to the January 6 capitol riot, saying: “History is watching, just like history watched three years ago on January 6th. Insurrectionists stormed this very Capitol and placed a dagger at the throat of American democracy.” Apparently, “the threat to democracy must be defended.” A confusing line that highlighted something largely ignored in the digital and print media: Joe Biden’s coherence level – while certainly better than some of his more recent performances – will not assuage doubts over his cognitive fitness.

The pivots were swift and often appeared unrelated. After lambasting Republicans for trying to “bury the truth of January 6th,” he brought up another “assault on freedom,” pointing out an invited audience member who was seeking IVF for a second child. He said, “the Alabama Supreme Court shut down IVF treatments across the state, unleashed by the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.” Although met with much applause from his fellow Democrats, this was a clear falsehood. The court ruled that embryos should essentially be treated as children, not that IVF treatment should be stopped.

Busy Biden

A refrain alluded to from the podium was one that has been pushed by the White House communications team and echoed strongly by the Biden-friendly media: I have done more in three years than most modern presidents managed in two terms. Here is an unchallenged assertion that is reminiscent of the 1980s British TV show Yes, Prime Minister, where the head of the civil service, Sir Humphrey Appleby, says that politicians need activity, “it’s their substitute for achievement!”

New banner Liberty Nation Analysis 1Mr. Biden may well have had a busy period in office, but activity is not always a suitable replacement for achievement. So, what were the achievements he touted during his address? Although much of the speech included things he wants to do and legislation he wants to sign, he did make some specific references that were met with applause by his admirers.

High on the list was the PACT Act that aims to deal with veterans who were exposed to toxins, a re-iteration of his support for a two-state solution in Israel (a fine line to walk for the president torn between differing wings of his party), and a “ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”

Shepard Biden?

The president’s personal approval rating is deep in the ditch, currently hovering just below 40%. Only 23% of the population believe the country is on the “Right Track.” With this as his backdrop, Joe Biden needed this address to relaunch himself and bring his wayward flock back into the Democrat fold. He scored some high points with his discussion of abortion, which has proven to be an electorally powerful issue since the Supreme Court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

He said:

“[T]hose bragging about overturning Roe v. Wade have no clue about the power of women in America. They found out, though, when reproductive freedom was on the ballot and won in 2022, 2023, and they will find out again in 2024.

“If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you, I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again!”

Other high points for the president included a not-quite-so-direct dealing with questions of his age. “When you get to be my age, certain things become clearer than ever,” Biden said. “The issue facing our nation isn’t how old we are, it’s how old our ideas are,” adding later that “hate, anger, revenge, retribution are among the oldest of ideas, but you can’t lead America with ancient ideas that only take us back.”

Towards the end of his address, he eventually gave some broad strokes on his plans for the future. He said that as part of his “Unity Agenda,” he would:

  • Strengthen penalties on fentanyl trafficking.
  • Pass bipartisan privacy legislation to protect our children online.
  • Harness the promise of A.I. and protect us from its peril.
  • Ban A.I. voice impersonation and more!
  • And keep our one truly sacred obligation to train and equip those we send into harm’s way and care for them and their families when they come home and when they don’t.

He may not have encouraged new voters to join his flock, but he might have shored up some who were wavering in enthusiasm – and that could prove decisive come November.

The GOP Rebuttal

Alabama’s US Senator Katie Britt delivered the customary Republican rebuttal. As the youngest female in the Senate on the GOP side, it seems the choice to have her front and center was to provide a stark contrast: old man vs young woman – a new generation optic. It was a comparatively effective non-verbal message but could be seen as a misfire considering the presumptive Republican nominee is not so many years behind the man at the podium.

“Right now, the American dream has turned into a nightmare for so many families,” Britt began. “The true, unvarnished state of our union begins and ends with this – our families are hurting, our country can do better.” She spoke well and decisively touched on the issues that Americans identify as their highest priorities: the economy, inflation, and the border.

In 1980, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan asked voters whether they were “better off now than [they] were four years ago.” It has become known as the “killer question” and, according to one Jimmy Carter aid, was “instrumental” in turning Carter’s poll lead into a Reagan landslide. Britt attempted to echo that same rhetoric during her rebuttal. She said:

“President Biden just doesn’t get it – he’s out of touch. Under his administration, families are worse off, our communities are less safe, and our country is less secure.”

Despite taking a lot of online flak over the optically questionable decision to deliver her rebuttal from a kitchen, Britt ended her generally negative and combative remarks with a note of hope, saying, “every generation has been called to do hard things. American greatness rests in the fact that we always answer that call.” She concluded:

“It’s who we are. Never forget, we are steeped in the blood of patriots who overthrew the most powerful empire in the world. We walk in the footsteps of pioneers who tamed the wild. We now carry forward the same flame of freedom as the liberators of an oppressed Europe.”

And the Other Rebuttal

Former President Trump took the unusual step of offering a play-by-play critique of Biden’s State of the Union address on his TruthSocial account. Sending out a litany of zingers, graphics, and more than one or two barbed insults, Mr. Trump provided an entertaining – if somewhat obsessive – commentary stream that was just as pointed towards his own re-election hopes as Biden’s sermon.

There were two clear themes to Trump’s remarks, making the case that, first, he believes people were better off under his presidency, and, second, that the US has gone downhill since his ousting. His efforts will likely not swing new voters to his cause – especially those who are put off by his brash and often boastful language – but it was solid red meat for his fanbase.

Closing out his digital oration, Trump had this to say in summary:

“The Story is that he got through it, he’s still breathing, and they didn’t have to carry him out in a straitjacket. Other than that, he did not do a very good job!”

The State of the State of the Union

The viewing public was perhaps not expecting a powerhouse performance, and in this, they were not disappointed; an 80% chance of angry outbursts with scattered showers of dull appeared to be the pundit consensus. While there were pockets of enthusiasm, the overall tone may have left many feeling deflated rather than enthused with the current state of the union.

GettyImages-2067411762-min state of the union

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Team Biden, however, was not taking any chances in letting negative opinions overshadow the event. Livestreaming on the White House website allowed viewers to react using only emojis – and these were limited to positive emojis (such as a heart and a thumbs-up) – proving, perhaps, that this was an address only for the party faithful and not the rest of America.

And in fact, exclusion appeared to be the overall message. The words may have been veneer-thin unity, but the tone was clear: Trump and those who support him are a danger that cannot be tolerated. With 13 direct references to former President Donald Trump, the hour-long speech did little to set out a vision for the next – and perhaps final – year of his presidency. This was campaign-stumping 2020-style, not a commander-in-chief rallying the nation, but rather a candidate trying to take down an opponent.

Read More From Mark Angelides

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