- Zach Roberts
State of the Union Address: Is Biden biting off more than America can chew?
Written by Zach Roberts
President Biden is pictured here on a trip to the US Department of Defense at the Pentagon in February 2021. In his Address to a Joint Session of Congress, he vowed to deliver a ''once in a generation investment in America itself.''
The first 100 days in office is the opportunity for the President to stamp their authority and set out just how they want their political legacy to come to fruition. Joe Biden was no different; if anything, the stakes were higher with both a global health crisis and the fallout of one of the most controversial Presidents to contend with. His Address to a Joint Session of Congress, as the first such speech is called although effectively his first State of the Union, was therefore the perfect platform to communicate how he plans on doing this. With over 80% of Americans who watched receiving it positively, what exactly did Biden promise and can he actually fulfil his pledges?
"Madam Speaker, Madam Vice President. No president has ever said those words from this podium. And it's about time."
These were the words Biden used to open his address, making history as he stood in front of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the first female, first African-American and first Asian-American Vice-President, Kamala Harris. He is right, it is ‘about time’ for more diversity in the highest political offices in America, and while having Vice President Harris on his presidential ticket was incredibly significant, it is crucial that she does not fall victim to political tokenism and relative obscurity.
If the State of the Union was anything to go by, it appears that Biden is fulfilling such a promise. He has repeatedly made clear that he is a President for ‘all’ Americans. For transgender Americans, citizens who were often felt chastised by Donald Trump’s administration, his reassuring words that “your President has your back” will have been widely welcomed. Likewise, in the aftermath of Derek Chauvin’s conviction for the murder of George Floyd, Biden made similar pledges of hope and support to the black communities across America. However, it must be noted that any President pleading for unity must work on the cracks between Washington and many of the white, blue collar working and middle classes that supported Trump. All of America has been hit by the pandemic, and Biden is seeking to ‘build back better’ with what analysts are calling the biggest overhaul of US benefits since the 60s - a $4trillion spending plan, including the American Jobs Plan: a blue-collar blueprint to address the infrastructure in America that will generate both jobs and combat climate change. There was also the American Families Plan: $1.8trn of welfare spending on education, college and child support. It is what Biden, himself, called "once in a generation investment in America itself" and he will be hoping it is implemented sooner rather than later in order to complement the vaccine rollout that has currently seen around 220 million doses administered since Biden first took office, the first major achievement of his Presidency.
It will not be plain sailing for his administration however, as spending of such a giant scale, especially during the economic hardship brought on by the pandemic will not be universally popular - amongst voters nor in Congress. Although Biden has a slim Democratic majority in both houses, there has been division among the party over how far to go with the plans. Wednesday night’s address would suggest he is aiming for a distinct shift away from conservative economics of heavy cuts and savings, with an immense spending plan supposedly being funded by an increased taxation on the richest 1%, also claiming during his address that “trickle-down economics has never worked. It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out.” This economic policy, of course, came to notoriety under one of his predecessors, Ronald Reagan, and by publicly denouncing it, this is unlikely to do him any favours in winning over either Republican congress members or voters. Nor will the claim that “we should invest in healthcare in the same way we invest in defence.” An endorsement from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, claiming Biden has “exceeded expectations” for ‘progressives’ demonstrates where he has chosen to make his ideological bed, and now he has to lie in it, that way at the very least he may win back some Republicans for his integrity.
Naturally, the Republican party were out in their droves to criticise the address, with Republican National Committee Chairwomen, Ronna McDaniel, saying “Mr Biden's first 100 days in office were an unqualified failure" while top House Republican Kevin McCarthy claimed, “the whole thing could have just been an email,” most likely taking aim at the length of Biden’s address, which at over an hour is the longest in over 40 years. Could it have been more concise? Perhaps, but no doubt his administration will be hoping that the length and professionalism of his delivery does help to bat away the criticisms of Biden’s age and the dementia worries and rumours that circulated due to his perceived inability to concentrate on or recite long speeches.
There is also the question of legacy too. Conservative commentator, Ben Shapiro, worries that Biden is a ‘one-term President’ pushing through a barrage of legislation in order to cement a legacy, no matter the damage to the American people, a sentiment shared by Piers Morgan who does not trust that the sourcing of Biden’s massive spending will not impact the average American citizen. For Biden at least, he can only prove them wrong now with actions rather than words. He has to hope now that his rousing call for unity will have done enough to bring both Congress and the population as a whole closer together in order to implement the legislation he wants to see, the spending he wants to see, and most importantly ‘building back better.’
Photo source - Flickr (U.S. Secretary of Defense)