Biden’s State of the Union Speech
Most people liked it more than I did.
In recent years, I’ve tended to skip Presidential addresses and simply read the transcript the next morning. Given the crisis in Ukraine and the shift in the US COVID strategy, though, I watched it live and was dismayed at the stumbling delivery. A President who is clearly very much in command came across to me as addled and lost, constantly slurring words and losing his place.
It seems that mine was a minority view.
CNN (“Speech watchers have mostly positive reaction of Biden’s State of the Union, CNN poll shows“):
A 71% majority of Americans who watched President Joe Biden‘s State of the Union address had a positive reaction to the speech, according to a CNN Poll conducted by SSRS, with a more modest 41% reacting very positively.
That’s a less enthusiastic reception than Biden received for his joint address to Congress last April, when 78% had a positive reaction and 51% reacted very positively. Both Donald Trump and Barack Obama also saw higher enthusiasm for their speeches during their second years in office: 48% of those who tuned in for Trump’s 2018 State of the Union were very positive, as were an identical 48% of those who watched Obama’s 2010 address. Biden’s 41% on that metric matches the previous low in CNN’s speech reaction polls dating back to 1998.
Good marks are typical for presidential addresses to Congress, as such speeches tend to attract generally friendly audiences. That’s true this year as well: The pool of people who watched Biden speak was about 11 percentage points more Democratic than the general public.
State of the Union addresses rarely have major, lasting impact on presidents’ approval numbers, but there are signs that Tuesday’s speech buoyed viewers’ opinions of Biden. Those who watched the speech say that Biden’s policy proposals would move the country in the right direction (67%) rather than the wrong direction (33%). In a survey conducted before the speech, those same people were closer to evenly split (52% right direction, 48% wrong direction).
The few OTB commenters who weighed in so far were enthusiastic as well.
- @Jax: “I honestly don’t know how right wingers can watch Biden right now and call him sleepy or exhibiting any signs of dementia. That is not what I see at all.”
- @MarkedMan: “I thought Biden’s SOTU was a master class.”
- @JohnSF: “Heard a fair bit of President Biden’s speech on BBC radio; very good, IMO.”
The NYT did a live “highlights” blog on the speech. Here are some of their reactions:
I said at the start that I was curious how Biden would address all he needed to in the time he had. Now I come away thinking that Biden plopped a clear message about Ukraine atop a laundry list of domestic policy goals, some without follow-ups or clear explanations. I was struck by how personal some of his agenda seemed to him, and somewhat surprised at how freely Republicans yelled at him and jeered him. He appears resolved and confident, but he is leading a divided country, and we saw that, outburst by outburst.
This was a pretty traditional State of the Union speech. Biden tried to touch on all of his priorities and goals. It will probably be remembered most for coming during the beginning of the Ukraine conflict. His team probably thinks he accomplished what he needed to do.
Biden’s off-the-cuff speaking style sometimes worries Democrats, but he has stepped up in big speech moments on the campaign trail and in office. The good reviews — and, presumably, sighs of relief — are already rolling in from Democrats.
In terms of the content itself, which is what I would have focused on instead of delivery had I stuck to my usual practice of just reading the transcript, the speech was pretty good.
The opener hit all the right notes:
Last year, Covid-19 kept us apart. This year, we are finally together again.
Tonight, we meet as Democrats, Republicans and Independents. But most importantly, as Americans.
With a duty to one another, to America, to the American people, to the Constitution.
And an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.
Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the very foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated.
The boorish actions by a handful of Republicans in attendance were in stark contrast to this message of a united front.
His remarks on the Ukraine crisis struck the right tone as well, quietly highlighting his own leadership, giving praise to our partners and allies—and the Ukrainians themselves—demonstrating that our united actions are working, and yet emphasizing that we’re not going to go to war over Ukraine.
I found the section on the American Rescue Plan over the top in its description of the state of the economy at the time, which was actually pretty damn good. But Presidents naturally take credit for their programs.
This was followed by a strong agenda that Americans should be able to rally around:
Invest in America. Educate Americans. Grow the work force. Build the economy from the bottom up and the middle out, not from the top down.
Because we know that when the middle class grows, the poor have a ladder up, and the wealthy do very well.
America used to have the best roads, bridges and airports on earth.
Now our infrastructure is ranked 13th in the world.
We won’t be able to compete for the jobs of the 21st century if we don’t fix it.
That’s why it was so important to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law — and I thank my Republican colleagues who joined to invest and rebuild America, the single biggest investment in history.
This was a bipartisan effort, and I want to thank the members of both parties who worked to make it happen.
We’re done talking about infrastructure weeks.
We’re now talking about an infrastructure decade.
It is going to transform America, to put us on a path to win the economic competition of the 21st century that we face with the rest of the world — particularly China.
This was followed by a section the could have been delivered by Donald Trump: a vision of creating manufacturing jobs here in America, buying American, and the like. It’s classic mercantilism, thankfully without the xenophobia that Trump added to the mix.
This section was clearly intended to be a climactic moment:
So, we have a choice.
One way to fight inflation is to drive down wages and make Americans poorer.
I think I have a better idea to fight inflation.
Lower your cost, not your wages.
That means make more cars and semiconductors in America.
More infrastructure and innovation in America.
More goods moving faster and cheaper in America.
More jobs where you can earn a good living in America.
Instead of relying on foreign supply chains, let’s make it in America.
Economists call it “increasing the productive capacity of our economy.”
I call it building a better America.
My plan to fight inflation will lower your costs and lower the deficit.
It fell flat for me on delivery and may be worse as written. The combination of the pandemic-driven shocks to the supply chain and the strategic competition with China has highlighted the dangers of reliance on imports in key sectors. But the notion that we’re going to somehow manufacture everything in America, pay much higher wages, and yet simultaneously bring down costs is absurd. Ditto spending massive amounts of money on pet projects while bringing down deficits.
More frustratingly, this was followed by haranguing corporations, including pharmaceutical companies, as greedy profiteers who don’t pay their fair share of taxes. Which will surely encourage more investment in creating good jobs right here in America.
The speech drug on and on, as has been the trend for many years now, with a long laundry list of programs and platitudes, very few of which will ever be implemented. The weird bit about burn pits that inexplicably had Speaker Pelosi jumping for joy. Ending opioid addiction. Funding the police! Curing cancer! A DARPA but for health. Saving democracy!