State of the Union Response

Steven Makino, Staff Writer

        Last week, President Joseph Biden gave his second State of the Union Address of his presidency, which was full of a few highs as well as significant low points. 

Despite his party outperforming expectations in the midterm election cycle, Biden has now lost his unified control of government. As such, the annual speech was an opportunity for him to explain his vision for the next two years to millions of viewers. Notably, however, the low moments overshadowed the positive ones.

         The main theme of Biden’s speech seemed to be the same one that pushed him over the finish line in 2020: unity. In reality, it is a compelling pitch in a country that has continually grown in political polarization. This message helped him in 2020 by making swing voters more comfortable with Biden personally than his opponent. In an attempt to tap into this same energy, he front-loaded his speech with both bipartisan rhetoric and achievements. 

He began his speech by congratulating Kevin McCarthy on becoming Speaker of the House, saying that he doesn’t “want to ruin [his] reputation,” but looks forward to finding common ground. He then began to name some pieces of legislation, such as touting the effects of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act and the PACT Act, which grants benefits to veterans who have been exposed to toxic substances during their service. 

These points were very effective, as they served to give off a sense of optimism to those who do not follow politics much, suggesting that political tension in the country may be on the decline.

          However, despite a decent start to the speech where Biden emphasized coming together, his call for unity is one that has lost much of its impact due to the actions taken in the first half of his term. One such area is his COVID-19 policies, where he has faced criticism from even a few members of his party. He stated that COVID “had shut down our businesses, closed our schools and robbed us of so much,” which was certainly true in 2020. 

However, once Operation Warp Speed produced safe and effective vaccines, this was no longer a necessity but was largely rather due to his policies and rhetoric. His urging to push unnecessary COVID precautions once the vaccines were widely available in the spring of 2021 created fear and even made it seem like the vaccine was not worth taking.

          In addition, his attempted vaccine mandate under the auspices of OSHA divided Americans even further as he blamed about a quarter of the country for not being able to go back to normal. While his mandate for the private sector was struck down by the Supreme Court, tens of thousands of Americans lost their jobs due to their choice to not to get the vaccine, at a time when many businesses were lifting their vaccine mandates.

        Another area where Biden placed focus was the economy and how he had created 12 million new jobs. This claim is questionable, as many of those jobs were ones that existed before the pandemic, with his policies arguably hindering further growth. He also barely touched on inflation and how it continues to be a record-high rate despite a significant decrease from last year.

         Biden then turned to the border, which has been one of the weakest aspects of his administration. While he claims to endorse securing the border and supporting the members of the border patrol, the past two years have seen no meaningful effort to negotiate border policy or even visit the border until very recently. 

Instead, the Biden administration’s lack of sound border policy has led to many border cities’ resources to be stretched thin. Even notable Democrats like Governor Jared Polis of Colorado and New York City Mayor Eric Adams have called on the Biden Administration to develop its border response.

         Lastly, the President spoke about China and readiness to retaliate against hostile actions if needed. These remarks, while necessary, seemed hollow after waiting nearly a week to shoot down a Chinese spy balloon as it hovered near nuclear sites across the country. This decision undercut Biden’s strength against the Chinese government while President Xi Jinping seems to be becoming more aggressive concerning Taiwan and more generally.

         I would be remiss if I did not mention the moments when actions from members of the GOP sparked audible outrage. I agree that in an ideal world, this would be inappropriate behavior and disrespectful to the President. 

However, during President Trump’s State of the Union Addresses, members of the Democratic Party were seen leaving the speech early and then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi ripped the president’s speech. Those moments did not cause nearly as much outrage from mainstream media outlets. GOP Congress members’ interruptions at Biden’s State of the Union Address did not seem like a big deal in comparison.

          Overall, President Biden gave a speech that had some points worthy of praise but many more that should be scrutinized. Heading into the next few years of divided government, it will be interesting to see if Biden adopts the Clintonian third way approach, attempting to reconcile the right and the left or whether he doubles down on the agenda of his first two years.