President Joe Biden’s second State of the Union address was his first with a Republican majority in the House, which is probably why he began the speech by touting his belief in bipartisan cooperation. It was also his last State of the Union address before the 2024 campaign season gets underway, which explains his conflicting efforts to pick fights with Republicans while attempting to channel the populist spirit of his former (and potentially future) political adversary Donald Trump.
Tuesday’s speech offered a preview of Biden’s soon-to-be-announced reelection campaign, waving the banner of bipartisanship like a matador’s cape. He urged Republicans to help him build on the “historic” progress of his first two years in office, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.
“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there’s no reason we can’t work together and find consensus on important things in this Congress as well,” Biden said. “Let’s finish the job.”
Knowing full well that such bipartisan cooperation is unlikely to materialize—as evidenced by the repeated jeers from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R., Ga.) and others—Biden’s “finish the job” refrain is best understood as an appeal to American voters to reelect him in 2024 and restore Democratic power in Congress so they can enact their controversial agenda without Republican support.
Biden delivered his address to Congress with the confidence of a president who has the luxury of forgoing the bitter primary fight Republicans are about to wage against themselves. He positioned himself as a sensible moderate, standing above the fray. “The people sent us a clear message,” he said. “Fighting for the sake of the fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.”
It’s a message that presumably polls well, along with some of Biden’s other proposals that might be described as soft-core Trumpism. Making the country great again by reviving the manufacturing sector and increasing our consumption of domestic goods. Taking on “powerful interests” while protecting Social Security and Medicare. Restoring national “pride” as part of a “blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America” that invests in “places and people that have been forgotten,” while promising not to raise taxes on the Democratic Party’s base of urban professionals making between $300,000 and $400,000 a year. “Americans are tired of being played for suckers,” he said.
Biden won the 2020 Democratic primary in part because he refused to entertain the thought that professional pundits and other left-wing activists knew anything about what normal Americans actually want. That doesn’t mean he is actually a sensible moderate who stands above the fray and tells it like it is. Contrary to what he claimed in his speech, inflation is not “coming down.” (Its growth has merely slowed.)
COVID-19 didn’t harm a generation of American children by keeping schools closed on his watch. Democratic politicians and their union allies did that. American concerns about rising crime are unlikely to be assuaged by blaming the pandemic. It’s mathematically impossible to reduce the deficit over the long term while hiking spending on all the goodies Democrats want to fund. It’s unclear how letting a Chinese spy balloon traverse the country is protecting America’s “sovereignty.”
We have a long year and a half ahead of us. Polling suggests most Americans, including most Democrats, don’t want Biden to run again. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party lacked a viable alternative to the first octogenarian president in U.S. history, and Biden refused to step aside. Now they’re stuck with him. And unless Republicans get their act together, we are too.
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