Alexander Jones: Joe Biden is back after State of the Union

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 9, 2022

By Alexander H Jones

Last week, President Joe Biden displayed some political strengths that have been obscured over the last year by political turbulence.

Empathetic and instilled with the gravitas of a long career, Biden appeared to be, rather than a flailing first-term president, a commander-in-chief worthy of the admiration of fair-minded Americans. His speech was colloquial in its prose and informal in its delivery, but in content and tone it provided the Biden administration with the boost it needs to get back on course.

The most significant portion of Biden’s State of the Union Address was the section addressing the crisis in Ukraine. In this passage, Biden projected resolve and firmly aligned the United States with the forces of democracy in Europe. His passion elicited cheers from both Republicans and Democrats. If there is anything that can help Biden fulfill his promise to unite the country, it is a crisis in which an old adversary is trying to overrun a weaker country that aspires to join the West. So far, Biden has handled the Ukrainian crisis with the skill of a veteran negotiator, and it stands to reason that Americans will contrast his steady hand with the dictator-worshiping embarrassment of his predecessor.

Further along in the speech, Biden recalled themes that are crucial to Democrats’ success but have been overlooked as some of the party’s activists focus on cultural issues, where they stand on much weaker ground. Biden delivered a speech laced with economically populist themes, speaking directly to voters in communities devastated by deindustrialization and a model of corporate globalism that has damaged the American worker. Like other successful Democratic leaders, he connected populist economic proposals with Americans’ daily lives. Biden has always been at his best when he draws from his deep well of empathy and experience with hardship.

We should not be so naive as to believe that Biden will receive much benefit from his attempts for bipartisanship. Though the president genuinely believes in working across the aisle, “Let’s Go Brandon” has become the quasi-official governing doctrine of his Republican opponents. Biden can expect little but obstructionism until such a time as Republicans are satisfied with … what, exactly? Their base hates the man.

And the Biden administration is unlikely to gain much by contrasting his open hand with Republicans’ clenched fist. Former President Barack Obama tried again and again to hold Republican obstructionism against them, but they stayed militant and paid little political price.

Biden’s administration and his party were in deep trouble earlier this winter. But like effective wartime presidents throughout history, Biden has met his calling and brought most of the American people along with the endeavor. His State of the Union address conveyed the precise themes and demeanor that made him president in the first place: steady leadership, competence and a deep well of empathy.

For millions of Americans disgusted with the unrelenting nastiness, racism and hatred that permeated nearly everything about Donald Trump’s presidency, Biden offers refreshing reassurance about who America is. An economic populist with a big heart, a patriotic American leading the free world against a vicious Russian thug: to put it simply, Joe Biden is back.

Alexander H. Jones is a Policy Analyst with Carolina Forward. He lives in Chapel Hill. Have feedback? Reach him at alex@carolinaforward.org.

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