The House Republicans couldn’t even elect one of their own as Speaker without the proceeding devolving into a near brawl, so I am not surprised that they couldn’t behave themselves during President Biden’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday. The White House is reportedly ecstatic that the GOP’s “boos, taunts, groans, and sarcastic chortles” helped Biden paint them as “unreasonable and chaotic.” The CNN flash poll of State of the Union viewers found 72 percent with a positive reaction and “71 percent said Biden’s policies will move the country in right direction — up 19 percentage points from before his speech.” That’s an unqualified success.
Biden needed it considering the results of the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll which found Donald Trump leading him in a hypothetical 2024 rematch, 48 percent to 45 percent. The highlight of the night came when Biden noted that some Republicans are calling to sunset Social Security. When this was met with howls of disingenuous protest, he calmly smiled and said, “Good, I guess it won’t be a problem then.” He effectively enlisted the political opposition in a demonstration of the unpopularity of their position on the debt ceiling. After all, if they can’t touch Social Security, they can’t make any realistic proposal to cut spending to the degree they’re demanding.
Overall, it was the least boring State of the Union speech I’ve ever watched, despite being quite lengthy. Partly this is because Biden’s speech impediment, which he mostly overcame in his youth, creates some tension and suspense. Partly it was because it was raucous, with plenty of fraught interaction with the audience. Mainly it was because Biden delivered a down to Earth speech which was light on acronyms, jargon, and budget line items and heavy on common sense rhetoric and comical political baiting of his opponents. He certainly didn’t lack self-confidence or behave defensively like you might expect from someone with poor reelection numbers.
I don’t recall any State of the Union speech making a lasting difference. They’re always held almost two years before the next federal election. But I’ve seen presidents get a nice bump in approval numbers after an effective speech, and I suspect Biden will see that come to fruition.
Ironically, the White House telegraphed beforehand that he was going to emphasize bipartisanship rather than delivering red meat to his supporters, and he certainly began that way by graciously congratulating Kevin McCarthy on becoming Speaker and Mitch McConnell on his record setting longevity as a Senate leader. But once the Republicans decided to vocally complain and interrupt, he brought down the hammer. I think Democrats everywhere quite enjoyed the spectacle, and it seems the larger public took Biden’s side.
It was a good performance, and a good night.