NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, April 28th, 2021

Joe Biden’s primetime address adeptly sought to relink U.S. to the idea of E Pluribus Unum

Joe Biden sat behind an elo­quent, often elo­quent and wit­ty word­smith for eight years as Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma addressed Con­gress, show­ing the nation why he was select­ed the first African Amer­i­can stu­dent to edit Har­vard Law Review. Biden ranked down in his class at the Syra­cuse Col­lege of Law.

Biden deliv­ered very dif­fer­ent­ly at the podi­um tonight in his first address to a joint ses­sion of the Unit­ed States Con­gress, of which he was once a member.

His was a speech that nour­ished and reas­sured rather than soared.

Its cen­tral theme was to rede­fine gov­ern­ment as a force for good and an enabler of ordi­nary Amer­i­cans’ dreams, harken­ing back to the coun­try’s orig­i­nal mot­to of E Pluribus Unum (Latin for out of many, one or one from many).

A delight­ed Sen­a­tor Pat­ty Mur­ray (D‑Washington) tweeted:

“Final­ly, the con­ver­sa­tions that often hap­pen last – if at all – about child­care, paid leave, and help­ing all our nation’s fam­i­lies are being talked about first.”

In a sparse­ly filled House cham­ber – with a pan­dem­ic-neces­si­tat­ed audi­ence of two hun­dred peo­ple instead of the usu­al 1,600 – Biden still man­aged symbolism.

At the begin­ning of the speech, turn­ing to Nan­cy Pelosi and Kamala Har­ris, he declared: “Madame Speak­er! Madame Vice Pres­i­dent! No Pres­i­dent has ever said those words from this podi­um, and it’s about time.”

The lis­ten­ing audi­ence received a long need­ed can-do reminder about the coun­try. A divid­ed, con­tentious Amer­i­ca, can pull togeth­er. We out-orga­nized and out-pro­duced total­i­tar­i­an Ger­many and its Axis col­lab­o­ra­tors in World War II.

We have now come an aston­ish­ing way toward vac­ci­nat­ing a nation.

In Biden’s words: “After I promised one hun­dred mil­lion COVID-19 vac­cine shots in one hun­dred days, we will have pro­vid­ed over two hun­dred and twen­ty mil­lion COVID-19 shots in one hun­dred days… Our progress in these past one hun­dred days against one of the worst pan­demics in his­to­ry is one of the great­est logis­ti­cal achieve­ments this coun­try has ever seen.”

Sen­a­tor Tim Scott, R‑South Car­oli­na, said in the Repub­li­can response that America’s school­child­ren should have been back in class­rooms “months ago.”

It’s a theme you hear often on right wing media. Truth be told, the num­ber of stu­dents receiv­ing full-time instruc­tion in America’s schools has risen from thir­ty-three per­cent to six­ty-five per­cent in the last one hun­dred days.

Amer­i­ca is “ready for take­off,” Biden told the nation.

Where does he want to take it? Joe was the estab­lish­ment Demo­c­rat in last year’s pres­i­den­tial pri­maries. He’s now sound­ing like Eliz­a­beth War­ren or (local­ly) Nick Hanauer. Wit­ness these words: “Trick­le down eco­nom­ics has nev­er worked. It’s time to grow the econ­o­my from the bot­tom (up) and the mid­dle out.”

Repub­li­cans were grum­bling, all day on FNC and from the moment Biden left the podi­um. Long ago, House Speak­er Newt Gin­grich called it “the Amer­i­can wel­fare speech” aimed at cre­at­ing a “depen­den­cy state.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dan New­house, R‑WA-04, churned out the par­ti­san boil­er­plate: “We can­not con­tin­ue to mort­gage our chil­dren and grandchildren’s future to pay for this Administration’s par­ti­san wish list.”

As they used to say in cook­ing class, that’s a crock.

Biden’s recipe for Amer­i­ca entails lift­ing folks out of a depen­den­cy state to bet­ter pur­sue the Amer­i­can dream. Its ingre­di­ents: com­mu­ni­ty col­lege with­out tuition, paid sick leave, uni­ver­sal preschool, a $15-an-hour min­i­mum wage for those doing society’s grunt work, and a per­ma­nent child tax credit.

Such uplift­ing pol­i­cy direc­tions will “help us rebuild the mid­dle class for the long term and give mil­lions of chil­dren a fair chance of suc­cess,” Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, D‑WA-01, observed after the speech.

David Hogg, a Park­land, Flori­da, mas­sacre sur­vivor and leader of March for Our Lives, watched glum, silent Repub­li­cans in the House cham­ber and tweet­ed:  “Imag­ine not stand­ing or clap­ping for cut­ting child pover­ty in half.”

The speech Wednes­day night marked a sea change from the past forty-one years, start­ing with Ronald Reagan’s “gov­ern­ment is the prob­lem” inau­gur­al speech in 1981. Soon, ketchup was being defined as a veg­etable for the school lunch pro­gram. Bill Clin­ton went with the flow, with this famous State of the Union remark: “The era of big gov­ern­ment is over.”

Pon­der, by con­trast, Joe Biden’s words.

“We have to prove that democ­ra­cy still works – that our gov­ern­ment still works and can deliv­er for the peo­ple. In our first one hun­dred days togeth­er, we have act­ed to restore the peo­ple’s faith in our gov­ern­ment to deliver.”

For­mer Pres­i­dent Clin­ton was singing a new, big-is-beau­ti­ful tune post-Biden speech, tweet­ing: “Great speech, great call to action. Let’s do it.”

When Biden was elect­ed, there was talk he would be a “tran­si­tion­al pres­i­dent,” pro­vid­ing relief from the errat­ic Trump, rein­tro­duc­ing sta­bil­i­ty and per­son­al decen­cy to the White House. Such fore­casts were wild­ly mistaken.

Pres­i­dent Biden is talk­ing of his agen­da as a “once in a gen­er­a­tion oppor­tu­ni­ty,” deter­mined to forge ahead on mul­ti­ple fronts simultaneously.

He talked seri­ous­ly of bipar­ti­san­ship on one front – police reform. It posed a chal­lenge that Tim Scott’s reas­sur­ing elo­quence – “This is not a racist nation” – will not let Repub­li­cans off the hook.

Research show a major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans want changes in polic­ing as peo­ple con­tin­ue to be shot to death by law enforce­ment, day after day and week after week. Will Repub­li­cans pan­der to Fox and try to exploit these recur­ring tragedies as before, or accede to and help work out reform?

The over­whelm­ing weight of Biden’s speech was on domes­tic issues, from upgrad­ing our 1960s-era infra­struc­ture to empow­er­ing mid­dle income families.

Biden did, how­ev­er, address the chal­lenge of a rival super­pow­er, Chi­na. A clear-eyed chal­lenge replaced the name-call­ing blus­ter of Trump. We are in a glob­al com­pe­ti­tion, said Biden, as to whether democ­ra­cy can pre­vail over autocracy.

“They’re going to write about this point in his­to­ry,” said Biden.

Chi­na is already about writ­ing that his­to­ry, expan­sion­ist around the word and a tech­nol­o­gy pow­er­house. Hav­ing dealt with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping when he was Vice Pres­i­dent, Biden warned: “He’s dead­ly earnest about becom­ing the most sig­nif­i­cant, con­se­quen­tial nation in the world.”

Joe Biden went on for six­ty-four min­utes and fifty-eight sec­onds. The speech did not soar, but it chal­lenged. The U.S. is indeed at a tip­ping point between renew­al and angry inter­nal con­flict that is a path to decline. The vac­cine suc­cess already shows what the coun­try can still do when con­cen­trat­ing its resources.

“What a dif­fer­ence in a year,” tweet­ed Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Derek Kilmer, D‑WA-06.

Unlike his pre­de­ces­sor, Joe Biden real­ly wants to make Amer­i­ca great again.

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