Five Bits That Biden’s State Of The Union Address Ought To Cover

In OPINION
Biden

Biden’s upcoming State of the Union address occurs at a pivotal juncture. War appears to be a certainty in Europe. Inflation is on the rise. The GOP clings to the “big lie” and fights voting access systematically, setting the groundwork for vote tampering.

In Summary

• The State of the Union addresses are infamous for their length and lack in proper messaging; for Biden, a different sort of speech is needed, one short items and broader substance.

• Biden should devote significant time discussing how the American Rescue Plan worked and what infrastructure legislation would accomplish.

• President Biden should exude a sense of optimism about the months ahead and America has reached a tipping point in the pandemic’s progression.

• Why Joe Biden’s State of the Union address should address America’s and the world’s democratic crises. He should pledge to enforce current voting laws, prevent fraud, and protect election workers.

Joe Biden
President Joe Biden hands a copy of his speech to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., after delivering his address to the joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, April 28, 2021 [COURTESY]

Biden’s State of the Union address at a difficult time

President Biden will make his State of the Union address next Tuesday, at which all members of Congress — but not their guests — have been invited per covid-19 guidelines. State of the Union addresses are infamous for their length and poor coherence; regardless of how hard the president and his speechwriters try, the addresses usually deteriorate into laundry lists of accomplishments and laundry lists of agenda items. After a week, hardly one remembers a single line.

Biden’s speech comes at a pivotal juncture. War appears to be an inevitability occurrence throughout Europe. Inflation is on the rise. The GOP clings to the “big lie” and relentlessly undermines voting access, setting the stage for vote tampering. Perhaps a different sort of speech is necessary, with fewer items and a greater degree of depth.

The president should begin by reminding Americans of where they were a year ago. The country had recently witnessed the fiercest insurrection since the Civil War. The vast majority of Americans were unvaccinated, numerous schools were shut or inaccessible, and the economy was in shambles. In other words, Amerians urgently want perspective. 

With a thriving economy (6.6 million new jobs), a large majority vaccinated and able to resume everyday life, schools back in school, and a functional government restored, while prosecutors and the House have begun investigating and prosecuting the insurrectionists, the improvements are stunning — and all too easily forgotten.

Second, Biden should devote significant time to discussing what the American Rescue Plan accomplished (who received assistance, what would have happened in its absence) and what the infrastructure legislation will do (including significant strides in green energy). 

The White House is oblivious to the extent to which the American public is aware of what was delivered. Biden should avoid referring to or using the phrase “Build Back Better.” It’s dead, and Biden’s continued talk of it serves to remind voters of his failures and the massive spending plans that made many voters apprehensive.

Biden should be forthright with Americans about inflation in this context. The country is experiencing inflation because of pushing large sums of money into the economy during the coronavirus pandemic — to keep businesses afloat, people fed, and children out of poverty, among other things — while production ceased. While rescuing people from misery was not wrong, the Federal Reserve now has to undertake its job of containing inflation. 

Biden has played his role in reviving the economy and restoring demand. He can take trim steps (e.g., supply chains), but inflation will eventually subside. Until that occurs, he has the authority to increase output (as the Competition Act does) and to monitor monopolistic practices and price gouging. Finally, he should improve empathy for voters while projecting confidence in the months ahead.

Joe Biden
A convoy of armored vehicles of the Ukrainian army moves towards the border as tension rises after Russiaâs recognition of Ukraineâs breakaway regions in Schastia town of Luhansk, Ukraine on February 22, 2022. [COURTESY]

America’s pandemic scourge is hitting a tipping point.

Third, Biden should acknowledge that America has reached a tipping point in response to the pandemic. He can celebrate the fact that more than three-quarters of Americans have received at least one shot, that schools have reopened, and that successful antibody treatments are being rolled out. 

With rare exceptions (e.g., kids and those with impaired immune systems), the only people who remain at danger of death or severe disease are those who choose not to be vaccinated. Biden should persuade them to join because the rest of will resume normalcy.

Fourth, Biden should be forthright: America’s current state is frighteningly precarious. He needs to explain why authoritarians and would-be authoritarians are attacking democracy and counter their arguments (e.g., democracies are unable to functioning; there are simple fixes that only a strongman can enforce). 

He then needs to make it abundantly clear that the Trumpist movement is an authoritarian cult that has spread a web of dangerous lies about everything from the 2020 election to Covid-19; winked at, if not encouraged, political violence; and sought to undermine America’s premise that every legal voter should be able to vote and have their vote counted. 

Instead, he should call out Republicans who continue to seek to decertify elections, politicize election administration, and refuse to safeguard election officials. Finally, the president should pledge to do all possible to enforce existing voting laws, prevent fraud, and protect election workers.

There is no more significant imperative than safeguarding voters’ access to ballots and election integrity.

In this context, he should bring up Ukraine — why it is imperative to prevent authoritarians from changing borders via force, dictating the choices of other countries, and unsettling the global order. Just as people must defend America’s interests at home, America and all must aid Ukraine in its fight for survival and hold Russia accountable for its unwarranted and unjustifiable invasion.

Lastly, Biden needs to pick a few items for future action — not the entire Build Back Better wish list. Instead, add crime-prevention measures to this list. Democrats must demonstrate to voters that they care about safety and are dedicated to doing all possible to ensure that well-trained and compensated police officers are on the job.

And that concludes the address. In a nutshell, maintain a one-hour time limit for your speech. Remind voters of the origins and the progress made by America’s economy. Recognize and promise an inflationary decline. Take a victory loop around covid. Address the crisis of democracy in the United States and around the world. Then pick a few items. If he succeeds, this State of the Union address will rank among the best in recent memory.

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