Beaming with that twinkle in his eye and comforting smile, Joe Biden laid out in no uncertain terms that he plans on seeking a second term in Tuesday night’s State of the Union Address (SOTU). Telling Members of Congress, “Let’s finish the job” on a number of occasions, the president laid out a series of accomplishments, engaged in some give-and-take banter with hard-right Republicans, and called for several new and in some cases, unexpected policy goals. The speech is already being well received by the punditry. And according to a CNN poll, 72 percent of those who watched approved of this speech, including 43 percent of Republicans.

Here’s What We Think Went Well

  • Tributes — The President started off strong simply by paying compliments to Republican Congressional leadership, deflating any perceived resentments when he said, “I start tonight by congratulating the members of the 118th Congress and the new Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy,” and “Congratulations to the longest serving Senate Leader in history, Mitch McConnell.” The comment forced the very weakly positioned McCarthy to once again have to smile reluctantly and shake Biden’s hand. McConnell, for his part, sat quietly with a modest look on his face as if he was about to retreat to his shell.

President Biden then turned on some Democratic “red meat” by praising Hakeem Jeffries as the first Black Minority Leader in history, and saying Nancy Pelosi is “someone who I think will be considered the greatest Speaker in the history of this country.” I’m sure this began to wind up the soon-to-be Biden hecklers on the far right.

McCarthy, for his part, had clearly practiced the look he kept on his face for most of the rest of the night, which we would characterize as “constipated disdain.” It was most undignified.

  • Sticking with Bipartisanship – There’s a real earnestness to his belief,  one that more of us have since given up on, that things can really be done in a bipartisan manner and that we can unify on several issues. We at Westside Voice are too hopeful he’s right to call him naive.

And the president came with evidence. He credited bipartisanship for passing the Pact Act to aid America’s Veterans whose health has been damaged from burn pits used during our engagements in the Middle East, as well as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act, which he also says will create millions of high-paying jobs. He said 300 additional bipartisan bills were signed into law during his term, including reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, the Electoral Count Reform Act, and the Respect for Marriage Act, which legally codified gay marriage. He later invoked bipartisanship again in complimenting the two party’s strong support of Ukraine.

  • Jobs and the American Comeback – The President’s message since taking office two years ago has been consistent with America being poised to come back big and his success in setting out to prove it. He is clearly proud of the work of his administration, but also of the American people themselves. Republicans didn’t really know what to do when he explained to viewers that the 12 million jobs created on his watch is, “More jobs created in two years than any president has ever created in four years.” But the most interesting part for us is where he wants to create those jobs, and the important message it sets up for Democrats.

When he solemnly laid out the following: “For decades, the middle class was hollowed out. Too many good-paying manufacturing jobs moved overseas. Factories at home closed down. Once-thriving cities and towns became shadows of what they used to be. And along the way, something else was lost. Pride. That sense of self-worth.”

Biden was essentially saying, “I’m not ready to write off Ohio,” “Wisconsin is too close,” and “Michigan should never even be competitive.” He clearly wants those voters back, Ohio for which seems the most lost. He backed it up with what has already happened, saying 800,000 manufacturing jobs have been created with the fastest growth in 40 years.

The president then expanded on manufacturing, reminding us of an all too familiar narrative that, “For too many decades, we imported products and exported jobs. Now, thanks to all we’ve done, we’re exporting American products and creating American jobs.” He then launched in into the story of the microchip, and how America has lost its once robust 40 percent market share. This allowed him to boast of the Chips and Science Act, which he said helps ensure, “The supply chain for America begins in America.” He spoke of a specific manufacturing project in Ohio that promises thousands of jobs, and of announced investments from American companies in American manufacturing to the tune of $300 Billion.

Later in the speech, the Republicans were again beaten to the punch when President Biden committed to “Buy American” for all construction materials used in all Federal projects, speaking again to those once great Rustbelt cities and their voters.

It’s never been clearer whose votes he wants and where they are. But that is just a politically cynical viewpoint. We truly believe he wants to help these people and rebuild this country. His conviction, coupled with how much we’ve gotten to know Job Biden in the last 15 years, tells us this to be true. We know he means it.

  • Rope-A-Doping the Republicans – When the president effortlessly goaded the Republicans on Social Security and Medicare, claiming their party had plans to sunset the programs, the Republicans fell for it hook, line, and sinker by booing loudly. The president deftly, and mockingly then said something along the lines of, “Oh, so we agree,” and “I guess you won’t be trying to cut these programs.” The Republicans had just been put on the record on national TV.

As to the hecklers from far-right circles, including a most vocal Marjorie Taylor Green, they looked petty and extreme, and most undignified, when heckling a president who was sincerely talking about trying to solve some of our most difficult problems. Score one more for the president.

What Could Have Been Stronger

  • Setting Up the Vice President for Success – There has been much criticism of Vice President Kamala Harris and her office, and not all of it from Republicans. But say what you will about our Vice President, she is under constant fire from a vicious Republican Party that has targeted her for hatred and attacks the same way they did to Hillary Clinton for two decades. Conservative media and politicians often go out of their way to demonize her. But the President only referred to one of her accomplishments in the SOTU – a small business loan program. That’s it?!

 With Vice President Harris in charge of so many policy aims at the request of the President – including border security – the President and his team should have bolstered her with several additional examples.

  • Women’s Reproductive Freedom – After the year we’ve had, I’ll simply say this subject registering as a small blip in this lengthy speech was appalling. I don’t know what the President and his team must have been thinking, especially compared to say, airline fees.
  • Police Reform – Here again, we found his wording lacking and trying to please both sides, cops, and reformers. We recognize the dangers of the job and support law enforcement in solving and preventing, where possible, crime. But the president should have done more and said more than use old yarns about better training somehow fixing behavior. We’re glad he at least mentioned the fact that cops are the ones sent into too many situations that should not be serviced by someone with a gun.

Photo by  Vitalii Abakumov

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