Was Biden's State of the Union address a success?

Joe Biden.
Joe Biden. Illustrated | Gettyimages
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President Biden this week delivered the second State of the Union speech of his presidency. The speech was unusually raucous in a setting typically marked by decorum, and Biden was frequently interrupted by those in the crowd during the hour and 12 minutes he spoke. The president even used the opportunity to speak directly to the Republicans criticizing him, in a rare display of a nearly one-on-one confrontation in the House chamber.

Following the speech, Democrats came out with tremendous praise for Biden's rhetoric, with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) calling it "true Joe Biden...the working family sitting in front of the TV said, 'He's talking to me!'" On the flip side, Republicans decried the president's remarks, with Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders saying, "Biden and the Democrats have failed you." So was the speech overall considered a success or a failure for Biden?

Biden delivered a clear political message

While Biden has sometimes been criticized for his speeches, the 2023 State of the Union saw a president that was "in a buoyant spirit, with an energy that's often lacking," Jeff Greenfield writes for Politico. As a result, he was able to give a "clear political goal" to define himself as "the guy who's on your side, going after the big boys who were flourishing at your expense."

Greenfield notes that Biden touted his record-low unemployment numbers "with a nationalist take on his economic agenda that may have made Donald Trump jealous." In Greenfield's opinion, Biden deserves at least some credit for "trying to speak more plainly and clearly to the country" during an overall positive speech.

This sentiment was echoed by Nicholas Kristof, who writes for The New York Times that Biden gave "perhaps the best speech of his presidency." It was also a good thing that Biden touted those "left behind and treated like they're invisible," Kristof adds, because "tens of millions of working-class Americans feel that way and haven't received adequate help in recent decades from either Republicans or Democrats."

Biden's populist push "won't win Republican votes in the House," Kristof says, but will "frame the partisan divide in an authentic way that advantages Democrats," and reminds people "that America can't succeed when so many Americans are falling behind."

The president touted unearned accomplishments

Biden used his speech as nothing more than a vessel to "have you believe the past two years under his rudderless leadership have been among the best in our nation's history," David N. Bossie writes for Fox News, adding that what he should have given was "a sober assessment of our country's standing by the leader of the free world."

"For anyone who believes Biden is being genuine in his overtures for compromise and bipartisanship," Bossie says, "recall his false promise of unity during his inaugural address in 2021." Bossie also believes that Biden is weak on "matters of national security, particularly with regard to China," and writes that the handling of the recent Chinese spy balloon shot down off the coast of South Carolina "demands a full investigation."

"If [Biden's] done so much for America, why does most of America not seem to appreciate it?" the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal asks. The Journal says Biden's issue going into the new year is a "contradiction stalking his presidency" due to a disconnect amongst voters. While noting that Biden's currently low approval ratings could rise, "it's worth asking why a presidency as successful as Mr. Biden and the media claim hasn't persuaded the public," the Journal adds, claiming Biden "has contributed to that polarization with the partisan agenda of his first two years after he campaigned as a unifier."

'Dark Brandon' held his own against a GOP onslaught

Fans of Biden have taken to calling him "Dark Brandon," a positive spin on the "Let's Go Brandon" phrase used by conservatives as a replacement for "f--k Joe Biden." This Dark Brandon persona was out in full form at the State of the Union, Rex Huppke writes for USA Today, arguing that Biden "proceeded to mop the House floor with the howling, discombobulated remains of the Republican Party."

Unlike some previous State of the Union speeches, Huppke notes that Biden "went off script regularly, parrying Republican lawmakers who heckled him," which at one point allowed the president to "[back] the whole party into a corner and getting them to swear to protect Medicare and Social Security benefits." Huppke believes the Republicans "ran at [Biden] like a pack of lemmings," but "with a wink and a grin, he politely directed them to the cliff."

As previously mentioned, Huppke agrees that Biden "will never be mistaken for a great orator." However, "his address relentlessly hit notes most Americans would cheer, putting the Republican lawmakers in a bind."

While many have taken to questioning Biden's age, Huppke writes that "Tuesday's speech suggests he's still got it when it comes to retail politicking." According to Huppke, Biden's speech was "like he's Benjamin-Buttoning all of a sudden," referring to the 2008 film where an old man gets progressively younger.

While not great, the speech could have been a lot worse

With everything that has gone on in the past few years, the state of the union "could be a lot worse," the editorial board of The Washington Post writes, adding that Biden "tried to draw a contrast with Republicans, reprising ideas Democrats failed to pass when they controlled Congress." Additionally, the Post writes, when Biden talked about the progress he has made, "it was not, as he is [one] to say, hyperbole." If anything, the president "was right to...pivot again to an appeal for bipartisanship, despite heckling from the GOP benches."

However, citing a recent poll showing apathy among voters toward the president, the Post writes that for Biden, "minimal national unity is indispensable to meet these challenges. Victory on either front will probably take the form of disaster averted, which is not a comment on Mr. Biden's leadership but on current political reality."

David Gergen writes for CNN that while Biden gave a great speech, "he now faces an even sterner test: Did he actually move the needle?" Gergen notes that it was easy to understand why Biden had low approval ratings when his presidency wasn't going well, but "he has had a string of successes in recent months, and yet his approval rating is still stuck in the low 40s."

If anything, Gergen believes, "Democratic strategists will become much more confident about [Biden's] prospects for re-election" after this speech. However, "if he doesn't pick up steam after a night like this, they may wander off the reservation."

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