This time, however, there was a lot to remember about President Biden’s second SOTU, both the bad behavior of members of Congress and the speech itself. Antics first:
- Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Representative George Santos (sic?)(R-NY or Brazil or wherever) got into it in the aisle before the speech, with Romney telling the prince of prevaricators that he had no business being there.
- Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) gallivanting around the House chamber with a white helium balloon to remind viewers of the Chinese inflatable that just traversed the U.S. and was shot down once it reached the Atlantic. It was fitting that someone so full of hot air herself would pull a stunt like this. If the viewing public didn’t get the message, she reinforced it by dressing in a weird white costume that made her look like a cross between a Chinese spy balloon and an albino musk ox.
- MTG’s multiple interruptions of Biden with shouts of “liar” when he cunningly accused Republicans of doing exactly what some of them really did—calling for the “sunsetting” of Social Security and Medicare.
- Senator Rick Scott (R-FL), a.k.a., “the gift that keeps on giving,” the father of this “third-rail” proposal to jettison Social Security and Medicare, looked very much in need of a powerful laxative when Biden brought this up.
- Kevin McCarthy futilely attempting to shush his raucous caucus when they rudely tried to shout Biden down. He did this sitting down because standing erect is not easy absent a spine.
The speech itself was a pretty good one and a fine presentation. Biden only had to meet a very low bar given the media and Republican efforts to portray him as a doddering octogenarian barely able to function. The most important takeaway was its normality, a breath of fresh air after the Trump Era lunacy. Moreover, Biden looked like he was having fun.
However, It was disappointing that, in an entirely too long speech, he gave little attention to climate change and a somewhat desultory sign of support for Ukraine, perhaps the two most challenging issues facing us.
It was also an optimistic speech, focusing on both his bipartisan legislative accomplishments and his hopes for future cooperation between the parties. That made him look big in contrast to the Republicans in the chamber, who looked small.
The contrast with Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders Republican response was stark. Responding to a SOTU is a tough task for anyone (see, e.g., the Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio fiascos), but Sanders did herself no favors. Her speech was both dark and dreary, littered with the kinds of untruths, grievances and rage reminiscent of her prickly time as Trump’s press secretary. The most head-scratching cut of all was her reference to Democrats as “crazy” in contrast to “normal” Republicans. Uh-huh.
Pundits are calling Biden’s SOTU the opening foray of his re-election campaign. If so, I hope he thinks twice about running in 2024. Unlike 2020, when he made a plausible argument that he was the only Democrat who could beat Trump, that’s no longer the case. Mindful that we have almost two years to go until the election, I think any Democrat could now beat the flailing, fading and increasingly insane Trump. Democrats have a strong bench (Governors Whitmer, Shapiro, Moore, Healey, Kotek, Polis, Grisham; Cabinet Secretaries Raimondo, Buttigieg; Senators Bennet, Booker, Duckworth, Kelly, Klobuchar, Warnock; and several effective mayors).
The real concern is Biden’s age. The presidency is an incredibly demanding job for anyone of any age, but someone who would be 86 at the end of a second term may be pushing it. Moreover, the visual contrast with a 40- or 50-something Republican opponent is likely to draw votes away from Biden.
It would be best for him and the country if he followed Nancy Pelosi’s lead. She was arguably the most successful Speaker in the nation’s history, yet she turned power over to the next generation even though she had a strong chance of the gavel returning to her in two years. Biden could take well-deserved satisfaction in a very effective one-term presidency.
February 11, 2023