Tonight I will listen to the State of the Union Address (SOTU) as I have done almost every year since the 1950s. George Washington gave the first such address on January 8, 1790. The U.S. Constitution requires that the President “from time to time” report on the state of the union and make “necessary and expedient” recommendations. In recent years only around 40% of Americans have listened to the SOTU and only around 60% of registered voters bother to vote. Few, if any of the laws proposed by the President in his speech will make it out of committee. Out of 94 spoken addresses, only a handful made a lasting impression on America or the world.
For political junkies (a very small percentage of Americans) the commentary before, during and after the speech will be carefully mined for talking points in future newscasts and newspaper headlines. However, for the roughly 40% of Americans who listen to some or all of the speech the impact will dissipate over time until it is almost insignificant. However, a good speech may give the President a bump in the polls while a bad one could cause him to slide.
Most of those who do listen, especially the Congress, will react in predictably political ways. The opposition party will find as much fault and blame as they can even if they have to make it up while the President’s party will plead for unity and the good cause as they see it. We are an increasingly divided country as Think in the Morning has pointed out in several past blogs. Thus, the arguments will get more and more strident. There is a distinct lack of civility as we have often pointed out on this blog site.
Whatever happened to Come Let Us Reason Together? The days when members of opposing parties and differing views can work together and find common ground seem fewer and fewer. As January 6th shows us, a vocal minority prefers to fight. America the beautiful seems to be growing increasingly Bleak. I hope I’m wrong on this but I fear a great unraveling of the American Dream if we don’t click our heels three times and say there’s no place like home. Last week I was worried about how we seem to be destroying the only world we have. This week I’m worried we might do ourselves in even before the planet as we know it disappears. Holy Cow, Superman! Tell me it isn’t true!
In the meantime, I’m listening tonight and hoping for the best.
The speech is now history. President Biden got his expected bounce in the pools. The conservative National Review called the speech “an aesthetic win” for Biden. Biden managed to manipulate the expected Republican harassment into his favor. He started the speech with an unscripted joke by addressing Kevin McCarthy as follows: “Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.”
He handled Republican hecklers like Marjorie Taylor Greene by dishing back one liners about Republican efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare: “Anyone who doubts it, contact my office. I’ll give you a copy of the proposal.” Speaker McCarthy sat behind Biden stone-faced and mostly unresponsive except to tell the hecklers “Shush.” Biden used the phrase “This isn’t your father’s Republican Party” in an attempt to win back independents and Republicans who are uncomfortable with the extreme MAGA agenda of the Freedom Caucus. “We must give hate and extremism no safe harbor.” He outlined a national industrial policy focusing on full employment, labor unionism and social justice.
The speech was a veiled plea for a second term: Let’s “finish the job.” Biden managed to sound “reasonable, centrist, constructive, and passionate” according to an article today in The New Yorker by Susan Glasser. Marjorie Taylor Greene was ridiculed for “her elaborate white fur outfit, which drew mockery and numerous comparisons to the Disney villain Cruella de Vil on social media.”
How well the speech plays over time remains to be seen but for now Democrats are pleased. Republicans, on the other hand, are choosing to focus on the culture wars. How this impacts the squabble over the debt ceiling is a key question for the near term. Stay tuned!