When asked this weekend to enumerate Joe Biden’s political successes, Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg replied: “There have been so many accomplishments under this administration, it can be difficult to list them in a distilled way.” A more politically polished answer has rarely been given, and rarer still with such a lack of self-awareness. The president may face a similar challenge himself as he prepares to deliver his State of the Union address. Biden may be able to rattle off a few hand-crafted numbers and denounce half the nation with aplomb, but the list of across-the-aisle wins is somewhat small. And yet, if the pre-game press coverage is any indication, Biden will be hailed as the conquering hero of unity that saved democracy from the demagogues.
Indeed, it seems the administration is already working overtime to lay the groundwork for a successful State of the Union, whether it comes to fruition or not.
The State of the Union Diaries
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre assured the media on Monday, Feb. 6, that the nation would receive the authentic words of Mr. Biden, saying: “The president is heavily engaged in the writing process. When you hear the speech, there will be no questions that this is a Joe Biden State of the Union speech.”
The SOTU address is a big-ticket event, at least in terms of the viewing numbers. It’s also a chance for the president to tout his achievements and lay out an agenda for the near future and the 2024 election. For Joe Biden, it presents an opportunity to paint his political rivals as a party in disarray; specifically, pushing the narrative that the GOP is non-functional because of deals made by California Republican Kevin McCarthy to secure the speaker’s gavel.
House Speaker McCarthy, on Monday, Feb. 6, issued his “prebuttal” in an effort to get ahead of Biden’s likely lines of attack. “We must commit to finding common ground on a responsible debt limit increase. Finding compromise is exactly how governing in America is supposed to work, and exactly what the American people voted for just three months ago,” McCarthy said. “Defaulting on our debt is not an option, but neither is a future of higher taxes, higher interest rates and an economy that doesn’t work.”
In response, Biden’s top economic advisor, Brian Deese, said: “This bedrock idea that the United States has met all of its financial obligations for its existence as a country isn’t something that anybody should be using as a bargaining chip. It’s not a negotiable item.”
Failures and Successes
NBC News predicts that the president will touch on at least two topics, writing, “A message Biden will deliver is that the economy is in better shape than when he took over from Trump, and that America’s overseas alliances are now stronger because of his diplomatic overtures, according to a White House official.” Both of these are hotly-debated points that are most often answered subjectively.
Ultimately, with just 30% of Americans believing the nation is on the “right track,” Joe Biden will have to present the sales pitch of his career. Whether the State of the Union narrative takes hold in the public psyche, however, will almost certainly rest on the spin courtesy of the Fourth Estate. But as political author and commentator Dick Morris once famously noted, “Spin is overrated. It is strategy, not spin, that wins elections.”
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