U.S. President Joe Biden gave his first state of the union address on Mar. 1. How did he perform overall?
Let’s get the obvious analysis out of the way.
There were many things in Biden’s address that I disagreed with. His political agenda is left-leaning and focused on increasing the size and involvement of the government. He paid plenty of lip service to climate change, wealth taxes, a 15 per cent minimum tax rate, Medicare and the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act, among other things.
Biden also made several gaffes. The majority of them would be classified as a basic slip of the tongue, which is very common for this president. The most notable error came during this line: “Putin may surround Kyiv with tanks, but he will never win the hearts and souls of the Iranian people.” Of course, he meant to say “Ukrainian people.”
These things aside, the speech’s overall tone was positive and upbeat. It wasn’t wildly partisan. The concluding sentences were also rather sharp, as evidenced here: “We are stronger today than we were a year ago. And we will be stronger a year from now than we are today. Now is our moment to meet and overcome the challenges of our time. And we will, as one people. One America. The United States of America.”
The best section dealt with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
If there’s one area where Biden can occasionally find common ground with Republicans and conservatives, it’s foreign policy. The president’s experience is immense, including several years chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He would be regarded as a liberal internationalist, a philosophy championed by then-president Woodrow Wilson during the First World War, and it includes support for multilateralism and military intervention.
While it’s impossible for the president to draw a perfectly straight line on foreign policy to his political rivals, it’s possible to build a working relationship with these commonalities. That’s what he’s been able to do, in Congress and the White House.
Biden’s best line referred to “an unwavering resolve that freedom will always triumph over tyranny.” His speechwriters caught the tone quite nicely and built up several paragraphs where the president could successfully push back against the Russians and unite his country in support of Ukraine.
“Six days ago,” he said, “Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the foundations of the free world thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated. He thought he could roll into Ukraine, and the world would roll over. Instead, he met a wall of strength he never imagined.”
Biden went on to say that Putin “met the Ukrainian people. From President Zelenskyy to every Ukrainian, their fearlessness, their courage, their determination, inspires the world. Groups of citizens blocking tanks with their bodies. Everyone from students to retiree teachers turned soldiers defending their homeland. In this struggle, as President Zelenskyy said in his speech to the European Parliament, ‘Light will win over darkness.’ The Ukrainian ambassador to the United States is here tonight. Let each of us here tonight in this chamber send an unmistakable signal to Ukraine and to the world. Please rise if you are able and show that, yes, we the United States of America stand with the Ukrainian people.”
Few Americans, irrespective of political stripe, would disagree with Biden’s analysis. They would see Putin for the tyrant he is and Zelenskyy for the folk hero he has become. They would also understand why Russia’s military invasion should be condemned, and how Ukraine fought back with courage and great resolve to defend their people, borders and history.
There were also some good lines near the end of this section that should be highlighted.
“When the history of this era is written,” Biden said, “Putin’s war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger. While it shouldn’t have taken something so terrible for people around the world to see what’s at stake, now everyone sees it clearly. … In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security.”
As someone who has written speeches for a world leader, I thought Biden’s discussion of Russia-Ukraine was crafted with great care. Most Republicans and Democrats would have found themselves nodding in approval with his analysis.
Biden delivered his state of the union with a dismal 37 per cent approval rating, according to a Feb. 27 ABC News/Washington Post poll. These addresses don’t historically move the political needle one iota.
But he hit the right notes when it came to foreign policy. If nothing else, that should be regarded as a success.
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.
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