Eighty year old President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union Address Tuesday evening — the first time someone that old has ever delivered the presidential address.
The speech presented a challenge for the aging Biden as his first two years in office have been characterized by verbal gaffes, teleprompter flubs, and criticisms about his poor communication and lack of availability to media. The speech also comes at a challenging moment in his presidency, as Republicans have now taken control of the House of Representatives.
The Commander-in-Chief kicked off the evening with a bizarre joke about needing a “court order” from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for something about a baseball game. His tone began as classic uncular Biden, but it quickly switched into a speed-reading, shouting approach that didn’t help him as he stumbled over polysyllabic words on multiple occasions. At other times, he reversed himself mid-speech on claims after getting booed by Republican lawmakers. The speech lacked the soaring rhetoric his old boss was always able to muster, and his claims to accomplishment were oddly out of line with reality.
“For decades the middle class has been hollowed out,” said Biden, who first joined the U.S. Senate in 1972 and was subsequently re-elected six times before becoming Vice President.
“For too many decades we exported American jobs,” he said.
A major theme of the speech was a Trumpesque focus on economic nationalism, the “Forgotten Man,” reclaiming American manufacturing dominance, and bringing supply chains back to the U.S. That included a surprise announcement that Biden will now require all federal infrastructure projects to buy exclusively American materials and products.
On the economy, the speech was largely incoherent. Biden stumped for protectionism while praising the benefits of competition. He claimed that his plan would cut the federal deficit while avoiding major entitlement reforms. And he touted phony job creation statistics, attempting to take credit for “creating” jobs that the government destroyed over COVID-19 in the first place.
Biden also made the standard left-wing case for higher taxes, saying, “I’m a capitalist, but pay your fair share… The tax system is not fair.” He claimed large corporations are not paying enough in taxes, but also said nobody earning under $400,000 per would pay additional taxes under his plans. The top one percent of American earners already pay more than 40 percent of all federal income taxes, while the bottom half paid just 2.3 percent. But the tax the rich rhetoric remains effective in a party that thinks Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez are brilliant economic thinkers.
He confused his Democratic colleagues at one point when he said something that was true: the American economy will need oil and natural gas for “at least another decade.” The remark seemed to be off the cuff and elicited stunned silence from the liberals in the crowd, plus a few guffaws from Republicans. Biden seemed to be attacking oil companies for what he said was a lack of investments in domestic oil production, which is odd considering he revoked the Keystone XL pipeline during his first week in office.
He lost the crowd again when he falsely accused his Republican colleagues of trying to cut Medicare and Social Security, an effective but false political attack Democratic officials have leveled frequently over the past decade. While some conservative think tanks have made the case for entitlement reform over the years, current Republican officials have ruled out entitlement reform.
After Republicans loudly booed the attacks, Biden seemed to adjust on the fly, changing his speech to acknowledge that his attack was false. While some Democratic commentators pointed to this moment as a strong point of the speech, the footage will likely make the jobs of DCCC campaign consultants a little bit harder in 2024. For the record, though, entitlement reform is absolutely necessary, and anyone who tells you it’s possible to rein in the soaring federal debt without addressing the primary drivers of that debt — i.e. structural entitlement spending — is lying.
Biden also claimed that burger restaurants like Wendy’s and McDonald’s use non-compete clauses for their minimum wage employees, but that they stopped doing it once he exposed that they were doing it.
“Look it up,” he said.
On foreign policy, Biden made only a passing comment about the Chinese spy balloon he allowed to surveil the U.S. for a week before shooting it down over the Atlantic ocean. Later in the speech, he used his relationship with China as an example of how tough and strong his administration has been, saying we’re in the strongest position “in decades” to compete with China.
Although Biden did draw attention to the Ukrainian Ambassador, the speech was light on mentions of Ukraine, especially consider how much the Russian invasion — and securing aid packages for Ukraine — has dominated his foreign policy. In a glaring error, Biden completely forgot to offer condolences to the people of Turkey, who just suffered a devastating earthquake.
All in all, an unmemorable speech. It’s is unlikely to significantly alter the political dynamics or impact any policy dynamics in Congress. On the positive side for Biden, he didn’t wander of the stage and his eye didn’t explode squirting blood everywhere.
Here are some photos and social media posts that caught our eye tonight:
Mrs. Biden going for the kiss on the lips with the Vice President’s man.
Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey with an interesting choice of lapel pin.
Bernie decided to rock the face diaper tonight.