Americans witnessed basic Joe Biden in this week’s State of the Union speech, the unifier who has rallied NATO and brought the world’s democracies closer together in response to Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, and the frustrated would-be healer of a nation’s hurts while dealing with a prolonged pandemic.
The 46th President was inadvertently aided, by the blunders of Putin’s aggression and by a fumbling Republican response. Fox personalities could and did sneer at his verbal stumble of “Iranian” for “Ukrainian” people, but who could argue with what followed: “We countered Russia’s lies with truth and now that he has acted, the free world will be holding him accountable.”
Thirty-six years as a United States Senator prepared Biden for the task of alliance rebuilding, after Donald Trump ridiculed NATO and embraced the word of Putin over his own intelligence agencies.
As the President accurately put it: “We shared with the world in advance what we knew Putin was planning and precisely how he would try to falsely justify his aggression.”
The President had extremes to play off, speaking in a House chamber attacked by a mob last year. There was Trump’s pre-war description of Putin as “very savvy” and a “genius” for recognizing the two breakaway “people’s republics” in eastern Ukraine. Or ex-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling Putin an “elegantly sophisticated counterpart” and “very shrewd.”
Tucker Carlson has been frantically backtracking since accusing the U.S. of staging a “coup” in Ukraine eight years ago.
Biden did not mention the January 6th insurrection.
He didn’t need to, not with militant extremists Lauren Boebert (R‑Colorado) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R‑Georgia) shouting at him. Nor with the bulk of the Republican caucus making their vocal disagreement known when he pointed out that their 2017 tax cut showered benefits on the rich.
Biden was a unifier during those thirty-six years a senator, getting in hot water for effusing over his working relationships with Southern segregationists. He tried the role on Tuesday night, talking of a country coming out of a pandemic. “Last year COVID-19 kept us apart,” he said. “This year we are finally together again.”
But not so fast. Biden must still contend with a predecessor who won’t admit he lost, And a vicious, unrelenting opposition to what Representative Virginia Foxx, R‑North Carolina, described in a tweet as “Biden’s degenerate agenda.”
Sneered Fox’s Laura Ingraham:“They’re [Democrats] so excited that Joe didn’t fall down the aisle tonight.”
Biden was careful to occupy high ground, issues where Americans should be together. He called for Congress to permit Medicare to negotiate drug prices with Big Pharma. One gallery star was thirteen year-old Joshua Davis, a young man with Type I diabetes whose family was victimized by high drug prices.
Big Tech was another carefully, wisely chosen target. “We must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit,” said Biden, one of the night’s best lines. “It’s time to strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.”
Republicans have labeled Democrats as enemies – rather than reformers – of the nation’s police officers. Biden was a political ally of the cops and firefighters while in Congress. The 46th President used his 2022 State of the Union to lay out a position similar to that of newly elected New York Mayor Eric Adams, a former police captain and a police reformer.
“The answer is not to defund the police,” Biden declared. “The answer is to fund the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.”
Reaction came from two parts of the chamber.
The Republicans roared approval before Biden reached the end of his sentence, while the Democrats cheered the push to provide training and resources.
One member of the squad was unmoved. “Defund the police and invest in our communities,” tweeted Representative Cori Bush, D‑Missouri.
The President spoke to causes that move ordinary people – a $15-an-hour minimum wage, extending the child tax credit – but are unlikely to move in Congress. Universal background checks for gun owners was championed by President Obama after the Sandy Hook Elementary School killings nine years ago.
Sadly, it has gone nowhere fast.
The sight of Senator Joe Manchin, D‑West Virginia, yukking it up with Senator Mitt Romney, R‑Utah, made me despair for child tax credits.
Still, it was refreshing to hear a President speak of a “bottom-up and middle-out” economic security strategy, and decry counterproductive tax cuts which “weaken economic growth, lower wages, trigger deficits and the widest gap between those at the top and everyone else in nearly a century.”
The Russian attack on Ukraine has produced just a hint of the common purpose with which America has treated past aggressors.
A good, healthy roar greeted Biden’s line: “He (Putin) thought he could roll into Ukraine and the world would roll over. Instead, he met a wall of strength he never imagined, the Ukrainian people.”
The President even had Republicans standing with a pledge to go after the yachts, private jets and luxury apartments of Russia’s oligarchs.
A key test of State of the Union speeches is follow-through.
On Wednesday morning, the U.S. Justice Department unveiled a new federal “KleptoCapture” task force aimed at those oligarchs who enrich and have been enriched by Putin. “To those bolstering the Russian regime through corruption and sanctions evasion: We will deprive you of safe haven and hold you accountable,” said Deputy Attorney Lisa Monaco. “Oligarchs be warned: We will use every tool to freeze and seize your criminal proceeds.”
While we can’t seem to persuade Congress to slap a minimum tax on major U.S. corporations, and our billionaires gained vast riches during the COVID-19 pandemic, we can at least go after Russia’s rich guys.