by Park MacDougald
Wednesday, 2
March 2022
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08:55

In his first State of the Union, Biden punches left

The President made clear overtures to the centre ground
by Park MacDougald

Perhaps no-one benefited more from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week than Joe Biden. The president’s approval had been flagging thanks to inflation, pandemic fatigue, and a Carteresque sense of malaise. In one recent poll, a majority of Americans said he lacked the “mental sharpness it takes to serve effectively as president”.

But war is unifying, and no war could be as unifying as Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine, which pits America’s traditional geopolitical rival, with its cartoon-villain president, against a band of plucky underdogs — a moral fable worthy of a John Wayne Western, and one in which Americans won’t be asked to do much other than cheer.

Biden led his first State of the Union with the war. With the Ukrainian ambassador seated next to his First Lady and scattered lawmakers dressed in blue and gold, a fresh-faced Biden, looking as if he’d had new work done, promised to punish Putin, defend every inch of NATO territory, and demonstrate US resolve. Biden tripped over the word “ruble.” He made a baffling reference to a “pound of Ukrainians.” He looked, at times, very very old. But the message was the right one: tough talk, but with a guarantee of no new war.

The rest of the speech was a seminar in David Shor’s concept of “popularism,” marred only by the president’s occasional verbal stumbles  — e.g., the Rust Belt as “the… the… the… home of the… the… significant resurgence of manufacturing”. There was scarcely a mention of the culture war. The president promised jobs, infrastructure, investment. He promised to buy American and lower the costs of prescription drugs. He talked about the mental health toll of the pandemic on children. He promised to beat the opioid epidemic and “end cancer as we know it.”

Notably, on issue after issue, Biden tacked hard to the centre. Speaking to a mostly barefaced chamber on the day the CDC relaxed its masking guidance, Biden positioned himself as championing a return to normal — he bragged that for most Americans, masks are now optional, while urging workers to return to offices. And, in the biggest applause line of the night, he announced: “The answer is not to defund the police, it’s to fund the police”.

In his first State of the Union, that is, the “most progressive president since FDR” endorsed positions that, for much of the last two years, would have earned the average blue-city professional pariah status at best. As he’s shown since his primary campaign, Biden is an imperfect vessel for basically sound instincts. But as his predecessor in the White House showed, and as Biden has learned with his most ambitious legislation, it’s not always easy to translate instincts into political results.

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Skip Simonds
Skip Simonds
3 months ago

Biden’s “State of the Union” had nothing to do with the actual state of the actual Union. Politicians love to talk about what they are going to do, never what they’ve done. This was pure political theater and not worth the commentary on it. If this political theater were on Broadway, it would have closed after the first night.

Warren T
Warren T
3 months ago
Reply to  Skip Simonds

Agreed. But it always has been. Tomorrow’s red herring will twist the necks of the peasants in the other direction, regardless.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago

We know Joe lies a lot…. after all he is a career politician who has tacked all over the place on positions and issues. When is the cognitive test coming?

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 months ago

Everyone seems to discount Biden… and Macron…and Trudeau….and Boris Johnson….and the woman in New Zealand and all the rest of them. What is the alternative? I would say that there isn’t an alternative. Putin seems to have picked up a lot of admirers because he actually stands for something – I suspect that those admirers will go quiet now.
Either a nobody or a ruthless tyrant and nothing in between.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

If you really believe there are no decent alternatives to Joe Biden & company you haven’t paid very much attention to the Democratic primaries.

David Kingsworthy
David Kingsworthy
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I can’t resist saying here that the woman in New Zealand knows nothing about the American West.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

These pusillanimous, weak Western leaders are why Putin can push so hard. You know it, we all know it.

Art C
Art C
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

The trashy people you name ARE nobodies who have ridden to power because of the indifference of their populations and the cheering of a feckless mass media. And in the case of the boy tyrant and the witch in NZ, we have tyrants already operating in early Putinesque mode. All these “leaders” have been looking increasingly unhinged these past few years too: think gender lunacy, de-fund the police”, covid insanity etc. As for the notion that these people are the best option because there is “no alternative”, this is utterly flawed and fundamentally undemocratic. This line of argument is akin to the corporate media smearing of anyone not conforming to (current) received orthodoxies as “far-right” or “extremist”. A more valid line of reasoning is that if the current bunch of mutton-heads remain in control of the levers of power they will take us all down with them.
The idea that a “ruthless tyrant” will jump into an imaginary vacuum if we jettison Biden, Johnson et al is fear porn in the vein of covid paranoia. It is possible that in some countries someone thick-skinned enough to ride the predictable hysterical reaction of the commentariat could emerge in the short term: a Jean Luc Mélenchon say, or another Trump. So be it: however obnoxious, such people at least understand the basics of national survival & do not take pride in humiliating their own countries. More to the point, there are plenty of decent, level-headed people out there who have either kept their heads below the parapets or left politics altogether these last few years. A real crisis is probably just what we need to get these folks to take active roles in our public life and restore some level of sanity to our politics. Cometh the hour …

Art C
Art C
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Forgive the bluntness, but you really need to be a bit short of grey matter NOT to discount Biden. His latest (at time of writing) gaffe, declaring in his SOTU speech that Putin would never “gain the hearts and souls of the Iranian people”, had even his witless VP (herself minimally endowed in the grey matter department) wincing in the background. This is a man so far in cognitive decline it’s probably fair to say that he literally HAS no more grey matter inside his skull.

Warren T
Warren T
3 months ago

Nothing that is true matters anymore. Whatever happens that is positive, he will take credit for it. Whatever happens that is negative will be blamed on Trump or Bush.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
3 months ago

A moral fable worthy of a John Wayne western? More like High Noon starring Gary Cooper.

When Marshal Ukraine (Kane) is the only person between the bad guys riding into town on the noon train and the comfortable residents of Hardlywill (Hadleyville) who have zero interest in extending to determined, resolute, brave Marshal Ukraine the fighting spirit that the.Kosovars benefitted from in 1999 (when The Magnificent Two, the USA and Britain took out Slobodan and his gang). This time, though, the marshal is going to find it very, very tough.

BTW, a capital W for Western? I believe it’s a small ‘w ‘. You have comedies, westerns, war films, film-noir, period dramas, gangster movies. For example. Mere westerners like us know our punctuation.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
3 months ago

Don’t forget that Gary Cooper couldn’t have done it without Grace Kelly. To maintain the parallel I would suggest that Marshall U-Kane couldn’t do it without Ursula.
And they need a catchy song too. ‘Do not forsake me oh my darling, on this our wedding day-ay’

Last edited 3 months ago by Chris Wheatley
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago

More The Alamo I fear

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
3 months ago

Do I believe the headline “punches left”, or the sub-headline “overtures to the the centre ground”? Or should it be “punches THE left”; or is Joe Biden a backwoods Republican, ‘cos I missed that.