Bryan Zepp Jamieson
February 7th 2023
I had been kind of ignoring the State of the Union address in recent years. They were pretty bland and formulaic under most presidents—yes, folks, the state of the union is strong and gawd bless the troops. And under Trump, as with most things under Trump, it was a grotesque travesty.
But I had a feeling I might want to watch this, and boy, am I glad I heeded that sense.
Biden staged a masterwork in challenging the GOP in the most conciliatory way possible. It was amazing to watch. He started out lavishing praise on the GOP for all the bipartisan legislation that got passed (some of which only had a handful of GOP votes and caused considerable discomfort amongst the Republicans, who really hate to be seen as cooperating with the Democrats in any way, shape or form.
Then he put the Republicans on the spot by making them sit on their hands while reciting facts that brought thunderous applause from Democrats and the vast majority of Americans watching: the twelve million new jobs, the lowest unemployment since 1969, the rise in working class pay, the explosion in domestic manufacturing jobs, the CHIPS act, the IRA, the COVID relief measures. Republicans had to show they oppose all those things.
Then he spoke about the deficit, which has been falling at record levels since he took office, and noted that a full quarter of the national debt had been racked up under “my predecessor.” While he hid it extremely well (I don’t want to play poker against Joe Biden) this last caused the MAGA caucus to lose their little minds and start screaming at him.
He didn’t try to shut them down, but then, why should he? HE wasn’t the one being embarrassed by them. Instead, he invited them to stop by the White House and he would give them the facts and figures.
He was able to goad the Coo-Coo Caucus a couple of more times, on abortion rights and gun control, and there were loud shouts of “order!” which is was interest to note came, not from Democrats (THEY weren’t embarrassed by these fools, either) but Republicans.
Biden, with surgical skill, went on to recite a number of issues where the majority of Republicans at least tacitly agree with him (debt ceiling, pay for school teachers, etc.) and and really worked the intraparty divisions that exist within the GOP. Biden put his thumb in the gap and twisted, mentioning securing the border and stopping fentanyl.
Watching Kevin McCarthy was a treat. Yes, I just said that. He isn’t a good poker player, and his growing discomfort over the antics of the MAGAts eventually turned into an open glare after the fifth or so outburst from the “Toilet Training is for Sissies” contingent.
So Biden managed the very neat trick of taking the role of “Together, we can make it work” and simultaneously opening the rift between the crazies and the rest of the country wider. And there was no duplicity involved, which is the amazing thing. He did it simply by saying what he had accomplished, what he wanted to accomplish, and why he wanted to do so, and watched as Voltaire’s prayer was answered. “I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: Oh Lord, make my enemies ridiculous. And God granted it.” Biden defeated the zanies and zealots with the one weapon they cannot counter: sweet reason and even temperament.
It made for the most entertaining SOTU since the days of Clinton, and while the zanies aren’t going to shrivel up and blow away, Biden has done a tremendous job of defanging them by making the show their fangs in response to friendly overtures.
Listening to Huckabye now. She is a hero because her mom survived cancer, and Trump was the greatest leader in history, and Biden has surrendered to a Chinese balloon. She isn’t staging a great comeback. Trump was a great hero. OK, Huckster. Whatever. Not one word about policy or goals; just the usual pseudo-patriotic pablum mixed with the usual god-flogging. America is in danger and god hates us, waaaaugh!
So: all in all a satisfying evening.
One thing for sure: the people who caught the SOTU in order to hate-watch are going to find it a whole lot harder to dismiss Biden as senile or foolish. He’s neither, and he’s smarter than most of you.