Takeaways from Biden’s State of the Union Address: Combative attacks on an enemy without a name

(Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press)

Takeaways from Biden’s State of the Union Address: Combative attacks on an enemy without a name


March 7, 2024

The State of the Union address is one of the presidency’s most enduring set pieces, a forum that almost always favors the speaker in a one-way conversation with millions of Americans.

Most speeches are immediately dissected and almost as quickly forgotten. But this is a very unusual year, in which President Biden must emphasize not only that his policies warrant a second term, but also that, at age 81, he has the personal capacity to do the job.

He laid out the clear contours of the coming campaign, criticized former President Trump over the January 6 insurrection and went to the Supreme Court, with justices present, over its ruling that overturned Roe vs. Wade.

Thus the shrinking size of a Snickers bar.

Here are some key takeaways from the speech.

He who shall not be named

Biden opened the speech with fiery denunciations of the pro-Trump rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021, then singled out Republicans in the chamber and Republican enemy Trump. But he refused to say Trump’s name, saying my predecessor and some of you here are trying to bury the truth about January 6.

He wrapped that into a larger issue, namely that democracy has been under threat like never before since the Civil War, which sets a clear line of attack he will use against the man he will not name.

He also criticized my predecessor for Trump’s assertion that Russian President Vladimir Putin can do whatever he wants regarding NATO allies and implored Congress to approve additional aid to Ukraine.

By speaking with a force that his supporters felt was lacking, he created a contrast between his internationalist view of the world and the more isolationist bent of his predecessor.

Biden spent almost the entire speech finding ways to convince Americans of the contrast.

The age question

When asked about his age and how it affects his ability to be president, Biden’s standard response is: pay attention to me.

On Thursday night he delivered what many of his own supporters left much to be desired. It was an energetic, powerful speech, and at times he taunted Republicans with ad-libs. When they questioned his support for bipartisan border security legislation, Biden said: Look at the facts. I know you can read.

Biden stumbled over a few words, and in the Republican response, Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama called him hesitant and diminished, but it was a more forceful performance than other speeches in which his comments can be meandering or difficult to hear. It was also a response to criticism that Biden is too old to continue serving as president. He would be 86 at the end of a second term, and Republicans, even though Trump is only four years younger, have enjoyed cutting up videos of the president to make him look as weak as possible on social media.

Biden leaned on his age, saying he was born during World War II, but defended his vision for the country as new. You can’t lead America with age-old ideas that will only set us back.

Abortion on the ballot

The president said efforts to restrict abortion rights were an attack on freedom, and he mocked the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade overturned, while the judges who were in the majority in that decision sat just a few feet away.

He also welcomed Kate Cox, a Dallas mother whose fetus had a fatal condition that put her own health at risk. She had to leave the state to have an abortion. My God, said Biden, what freedoms are you going to take away now?

Biden has not emphasized abortion rights for much of his career. In his speech he showed how much he believes this issue could be the key to a second term.

Obamacare, still a BFD

Back to my predecessor. Biden playfully said the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, is still a big deal, paying tribute to when he used more colorful language as vice president in 2010 to describe the historic policy victory for President Obama. And he pledged to work on a tax credit that would be permanently tied to the law.

More than 100 million of you can no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, Biden said. Well, my predecessor, many in this House want to take away the benefit of prescription drugs by repealing the Affordable Care Act. I won’t let that happen.

Biden appeared to make a comment about pharmaceutical companies selling their drugs around the world at lower prices, telling the audience that he would like to take them on Air Force One to several major world cities, including Moscow, to see how much they would save. the same medications.

Biden quickly caught himself and said this was probably the case even in Russia, and moved on. Take your prescription with you. And I promise I’ll get it for you for 40% of the cost you pay now.

It was in Gaza

The bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas provided an inevitable backdrop to Biden’s speech. His motorcade took a different route to the U.S. Capitol after protesters blocked part of Pennsylvania Avenue. In the House of Representatives chamber, some lawmakers wore kaffiyehs, the black-and-white checked scarves that symbolized solidarity with Palestinians.

Biden announced plans for the US military to help build a temporary pier on the Gaza coast, an effort the administration said should significantly increase the flow of aid to the besieged area.

The unveiling of the plan was perhaps the most substantive element of his speech about the war. It allowed Biden to demonstrate he is taking action despite anger and resistance from some Democrats over his strong support for Israel, even as the Palestinian death toll rises. It also comes after Biden last week approved US military airdrop assistance in Gaza.

The temporary pier, Biden said, will allow for a massive increase in humanitarian aid in Gaza.

But at the same time, he called on Israelis to do more to alleviate suffering even as they sought to eliminate Hamas. To Israel, I say this humanitarian aid should not be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip, Biden said.

Middle class Joep

Biden outlined an economic vision that was big and small. He praised a post-pandemic economic recovery that did not sacrifice job creation to curb inflation. With home prices still high, he proposed a tax credit that would lower mortgage costs.

He also hammered Republicans for their tax policies that favored the wealthy. Check the numbers. Folks back home, does anyone really think the tax code is fair?

Biden said there should be a minimum tax rate of 25% for billionaires, and said no billionaire should pay a lower federal tax rate than a teacher, a sanitation worker or a nurse.

The president talked about cracking down on junk fees that can undermine U.S. budgets, and he criticized snack companies for getting fewer products for the same price due to shrinkflation.

You will be charged the same amount and contain approximately 10% fewer Snickers.

Must-see, but not necessarily on TV

When Biden was elected to the Senate in 1972, the State of the Union address was made television for tens of millions of Americans watching on three major networks.

Now it’s so much more than a television event. Traditional ways of measuring viewership have steadily declined. Biden’s speech last year attracted the second-smallest audience for the annual event in at least three decades, according to Nielsen.

The audience is so fragmented that Biden’s campaign prepared with targeted segments that could be sent to specific audiences on social media. Guests whose stories were highlighted in the speech will make the rounds in local television markets to talk about the real-world impact of Biden’s policies. And look for Biden and his surrogates to find creative ways to deliver bits of his message to Americans who didn’t tune in Thursday night.

Hours before delivering the speech, Biden posted to his

Megerian and Madhani write for the Associated Press.


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