When Democratic President Bill Clinton delivered the 1995 State of the Union address at the start of his third year in office, just after Republicans had taken control of Congress and his approval rating had languished in the 40s, he promised to cut spending: “We are proposing to shrink the Department $130 billion in spending cuts, extending our moratorium on domestic spending, cutting 60 public housing programs to three, getting rid of over 100 programs we don’t need.”
When Democratic President Barack Obama delivered his 2011 State of the Union address at the start of his third year in office, just after Republicans took control of the House and his approval rating had dipped into the 40s, he promised to cut spending: “I propose that this Starting next year, we will freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. Now, that will reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade and bring discretionary spending to the lowest part of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower became president.”
When Democratic President Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address at the start of his third year in office, just after Republicans took control of the House and his approval rating had languished in the 40s, he did so. no Commitment to cost reduction.
Sure, Biden nodded toward the center—praising bipartisanship, proposing more border security, offering a message to former President George W. Bush for his work to fight HIV/AIDS. But the president did not behave like a concerned politician seeking to make an ideological pivot. A very confident Biden delivered the address, proudly defending his record and conceding nothing. He even managed to lock in a key concession from Republicans.
After Biden pointed to unnamed Republicans who “want to sunset Medicare and Social Security” (a reference to Senator Rick Scott’s sunset plan per Federal laws and programs every five years), Republicans interrupted with groans. Undeterred, Biden seized the opportunity. “As we all obviously agree, Social Security and Medicare are off the books now, right? They can’t be touched.” Republicans applauded, including Speaker Kevin McCarthy from behind the stage. Of course, Biden was aware that McCarthy had already said he would leave Social Security and Medicare out of the budget talks, but his deft ad-lib seemed to draw the concession out of the entire GOP convention. .
We can’t say for sure whether Biden’s defiance is politically wise until the 2024 election. Say what you will about Clinton and Obama’s proposed strategic spending retreat, but they got re-elected at their own hands. And despite his reluctance to make concessions ahead of talks, Biden may walk the same path as his Democratic predecessors. It’s extremely difficult to imagine a budget deal with the Republican-controlled House that doesn’t cut spending.
But in the short term, Biden’s easy-going confidence is just what he needs to keep the naysayers at bay. Thanks to an expected midterm performance, Biden avoided an early primary challenge. However, there are rumblings of concern among Democrats about his advanced age. You can feel the Democratic panic every time a poll comes out with Biden trailing Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis. Following this month’s ABC/The Washington Post The poll shows Donald Trump beating Biden by three points. Julian Castro, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who is running against Biden for the Democratic nomination in 2020, posted on Twitter, “This poll undermines Biden’s central argument for re-nomination.” A desperate and divisive State of the Union address could shake the Democratic base and ignite a wave of zeitgeist calls for a new nominee.
Not what didn’t happen. Biden didn’t just give a tough speech. He showed agility, went off script and ran circles around his hecklers. It echoed Ronald Reagan’s great moment during the second 1984 general election presidential debate when the 73-year-old president was questioned about his stamina. “I want you to know that I will not make age an issue in this campaign,” The Gipper replied cheekily. I am not going to exploit the youth and inexperience of my opponent for political purposes.”
And that’s not all. Biden created a vision that could resonate with the progressive base and apolitical swing voters. “Capitalism without competition is not capitalism,” Biden declared, “it’s extortion. It’s exploitation.”
After detailing his administration’s efforts to reduce surprise medical bills, fight nursing home fraud, lower shipping costs and allow hearing aids to be sold over the counter, Biden touted legislation to prevent hidden surcharges on bills known as “junk fees.” He cited examples of unnecessary fees that hit middle-class commuters, concert-goers and telecommunications customers. And he did so without being bound by confusing laws.
In his internal Scranton channel, Biden said, “The idea that cable, internet and cell phone companies can charge you $200 or more if you decide to switch to another provider — give me a break” and “Americans are tired of playing suck.”
At the same time, he didn’t give an inch in the culture wars, as he called for the codification of national abortion rights and legal protections for “LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender youth.” He asserts a commonsense position on criminal justice and police reform: “Just as every police officer has a right to be able to go home at night when he pins that badge on in the morning, so does everyone else. Our children have the right to return home safely.” Biden got to where he is because he has a decades-long record of navigating treacherous political terrain and building economically and racially diverse coalitions. Last night he did it again.
Thirty-nine years ago, after his debate, Reagan said, “I might add that it was Seneca or it was Cicero, I don’t know which, who said, ‘If it had not been for correcting the errors of the ancients. Young, there would be no state.’ ‘” Yesterday, the elder again showed the youth how it’s done.