Joe Biden waves
President Biden delivering his 2024 State of the Union remarks to a joint session of Congress (Official White House photo)

Repub­li­cans have sought to hang the label “Sleepy Joe” on Pres­i­dent Biden, as a way of exploit­ing pub­lic con­cern over age and gait of Amer­i­ca’s 46th President.

The ques­tion can now be put: “Sleepy Who?” Biden addressed the nation tonight in a feisty, ener­getic cam­paign-style State of the Union speech. He decried the poli­cies of “my pre­de­ces­sor” — not once speak­ing the name of Don­ald Trump — and open­ly, enjoy­ably sparred with Repub­li­can lawmakers.

“The issue fac­ing our nation is not how old we are, it’s how old our ideas are?” said Biden, first elect­ed to the U.S. Sen­ate in 1972 at the age of twenty-nine.

The speech began with pas­sion­ate advo­ca­cy for U.S. mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine and turn­ing back Russia’s inva­sion. “I say this to Con­gress: We have to stand up to Putin… We will not walk away; we will not bow down. I will not bow down”.

He flagged Sweden’s Prime Min­is­ter Ulf Kris­ters­son, seat­ed beside Jill Biden in the House gallery: “Wel­come to NATO.” Swe­den just joined the alliance today, rein­vig­o­rat­ed fol­low­ing Putin’s esca­la­tion of Rus­si­a’s war on Ukraine.

But Biden went fur­ther, evok­ing Ronald Reagan’s famous words in a Berlin speech: “Mr. Gor­bachev, tear down this wall.”

In con­trast, Biden cit­ed a recent, reck­less speech by Trump, in which the Repub­li­cans leader told lis­ten­ers, If NATO mem­bers fall back on their mil­i­tary con­tri­bu­tions to the alliance, he would tell Putin, “Do what­ev­er the hell you want.”

The reac­tion to Biden’s speech on Twit­ter was of sar­casm dis­guis­ing shock by Repub­li­cans. “Why is Biden snarling and shout­ing?” asked FNC host Lau­ra Ingra­ham. Repub­li­can strate­gist and poll­ster Frank Luntz added: “Let’s see whether unde­cid­ed vot­ers like being yelled at.”

Recent­ly mint­ed House Speak­er Mike John­son, seat­ed behind Biden, was the most uncom­fort­able fig­ure of the night. He stayed put as Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris jumped to her feet for repeat­ed stand­ing ova­tions by Democ­rats, and remained silent at Biden took on ultra MAGA Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Mar­jorie Tay­lor Greene.

“As Pres­i­dent speaks to Con­gress, this House Speak­er smirks and scowls from behind” wrote his­to­ri­an Michael Beschloss. Ex-Oba­ma White House aide Stephanie Cut­ter chimed in: “Michael John­son should have prac­ticed his non-expres­sion face in front of a mir­ror. He doesn’t know what the hell to do right now.”

The Biden speech dealt with great glob­al and domes­tic issues — “Democ­ra­cy is under attack” — but also Amer­i­cans’ every­day annoy­ances over junk fees attached to air­plane tick­ets, cred­it card late fees and the mys­te­ri­ous shrink­ing size of a Snick­ers can­dy bar (shrink­fla­tion, which Robert Reich has been highlighting).

Biden assailed Repub­li­cans’ 2017 tax cut for show­er­ing mon­ey on the already-rich and said he will ask Con­gress to impose a tax on the country’s thou­sand or so bil­lion­aires. “Does any­body believe our tax code is fair?” he asked.

“No!” bel­lowed Democ­rats in the chamber.

A sur­pris­ing chunk of the speech was aimed at younger vot­ers, whose votes have fueled Demo­c­ra­t­ic vic­to­ries over Trump-backed can­di­dates. Biden called for an end to crim­i­nal penal­ties against recre­ation­al users of mar­i­jua­na. He called out a sur­vivor of the Uvalde, Texas, school mas­sacre, pledg­ing: “I see a future where we save the plan­et from the cli­mate cri­sis and our coun­try from gun violence.”

The Pres­i­dent called for a nation­wide ban on assault weapons with high-capac­i­ty mag­a­zines, used in mass killings from Uvalde to Buf­fa­lo to El Paso.

Biden had to nav­i­gate two fraught and high­ly emo­tion­al issues. The Pres­i­dent reit­er­at­ed his long­stand­ing sup­port of Israel — and revul­sion at Hamas’ slaugh­ter of 1,200 Israelis last Octo­ber — but stat­ed: “As we look to the future, the only real solu­tion is a two-state solu­tion over time”. With star­va­tion threat­en­ing thou­sands of Pales­tin­ian chil­dren in Gaza, he announced the U.S. will install a tem­po­rary pier on the Gaza coast to fun­nel in emer­gency supplies.

Biden mocked House Repub­li­cans for scut­tling a Sen­ate-nego­ti­at­ed bor­der plan — at Trump’s direc­tion— but reit­er­at­ed America’s his­to­ry as a nation built by immi­grants. He sin­gled out a par­tic­u­lar­ly ugly Trump remark, say­ing, “I will not demo­nize immi­grants say­ing they poi­son the blood of our country.”

The Democ­rats deserve to be ener­gized at Biden’s speech.

An instant CNN poll gave him high marks. “He gave a mas­ter class in how to defend America’s future and the future of our democ­ra­cy,” said long­time Demo­c­ra­t­ic strate­gist and pun­dit Don­na Brazile.

The Pres­i­dent was feel­ing good as well. Speak­er John­son turned down the lights, but Biden hap­pi­ly lin­gered for an hour glad hand­ing on the House floor. One law­mak­er he talked to was Seattle’s Unit­ed States Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Prami­la Jayapal.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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