by Victor Shi
President Biden’s State of the Union on Tuesday was the best speech I have ever seen him deliver. He was forceful. He was energetic. He was strong. He touched on the majority of the issues that the American people — and young people — care about. He called out Republicans in a way that hasn’t happened before in a State of the Union speech, and above all else, he offered Congress — and the country — a way forward.
Much has changed since President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address last February — for better and worse. On Tuesday evening, Biden spoke before a now Republican-controlled House, an audience not nearly as welcoming as his previous address to Congress. Rather than Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Biden recognized in his remarks as the most successful Speaker in U.S. history, sitting behind him, it was Kevin McCarthy — an already failed Speaker who is currently holding our nation under siege for political gain with threats to default on our national debt.
Leading up to Tuesday night’s address, I admit I had questions and concerns about what President Biden might say. Would President Biden make a plea to Republicans in Congress to finally come together? And, more importantly, would President Biden use the national stage to highlight the hypocrisy of Republicans and their extreme plans that would hurt the American economy and families? Could he thread that very fine needle?
After watching Biden’s speech, it is not an overstatement to say that he did both masterfully.
The President began by highlighting the power of bipartisanship over the last two years. He underscored that both parties “came together to defend a stronger and safer Europe…to pass a once-in-a-generation infrastructure law…to pass one of the most significant laws ever, helping veterans exposed to toxic burn pits.” As a member of Gen Z, I can attest that finding common ground, working together, and actually getting things done is hugely appealing. Tribalism is simply not our thing. Solutions and progress are.
Beginning with a call to unity was classic Joe Biden while also serving a strategic purpose; It set the stage to contrast what could be possible with his clear-eyed assessment of the reality of this moment. That is, Republicans have spent the past few weeks demonstrating that they are more committed to scoring cheap political points than helping the American people. Biden’s emphatic statement, “Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere,” isn’t partisan unless you know that’s precisely your party’s objective.
As the speech continued, President Biden didn’t shy away from calling out the Republicans standing before him. Better yet, President Biden was able to connect his critiques to his fight to help the American people. For instance, Biden called out Republicans for actively seeking to repeal one of the biggest accomplishments of his administration, the Inflation Reduction Act, and vowed that, if they do so, he will veto it. He also pointed to Republicans’—without naming names—stated goals of gutting social security and medicare. When Republicans became so riled up about being called out before the nation, Biden performed political jiu-jitsu as I have never seen before. He cornered them into committing to not make cuts to social security and medicare. Put simply, Biden employed the power of the bully pulpit to remind Americans of how extreme Republicans have become and made it clear that he won’t tolerate it.
Calling out Republicans and persuading members of Congress may have been the easy part, though. The bigger challenge for Biden was reaching people listening and watching at home—American voters. Stark evidence of that need was delivered the day before his address when a Washington Post-ABC News poll revealed that more than 60% of Americans hadn’t felt the positive impact of the policies President Biden has signed into law. To put it bluntly, the majority of Americans have no idea what President Biden has done and is doing.
But classic Scranton Joe Biden arrived on the dais and did what he does best: he expressed empathy and compassion for the struggles working people were facing, a determination that, together, we could create better days ahead, and confidence in our potential.
The moment Biden locked eyes with the camera to speak directly to the American people, I knew what was coming, and it was glorious. Biden looked directly into the camera and said, “Maybe that’s you, watching at home.” Instantly, our president made us at home feel seen, heard, and, most importantly, valued.
What followed was even better, not because it was smart politically — though it was — but because it was genuine, and you could feel it through your screen. President Biden spoke about the challenges facing many Americans today — things like wondering if you will have the money to pay medical bills or if you will have to sell your house. For someone who has lost so much and endured so much grief, Biden was made for that moment. We instantly knew and could feel that he understood our struggles and promised that things will get better as the policies he has already signed into law begin taking effect.
Biden took a critical step beyond making working families, educators, and parents feel seen; he also directly addressed and offered solutions to issues that remain important to my peers and me. Take, for instance, gun violence, which is now the leading cause of death among young people. Biden made a forceful plea to Congress to “ban assault weapons once and for all.” He also addressed the issue of mental health, saying we must do more “for our children” by giving them more “access to mental health care at school.” And lastly, for a generation that saw abortion get overturned by a Republican-controlled Court, the President assured us that if Congress passes a national abortion ban, he will veto it.
To be sure, one speech won’t win over the hearts and minds of 60% of the country — especially when many people don’t even watch the State of the Union. But what President Biden delivered on Tuesday was a messaging roadmap for others working to reach independents and Republicans who are tired of the current state of the Republican Party. And the way President Biden accomplished that was by doing two things that he does better than most politicians: being honest and being empathetic while talking about the issues that actually matter to Americans, including young people like me.
The president, the leader, the man who we saw on Tuesday night, is one we should unite around. After all, there is one party committed to democracy and improving the lives of all Americans. And its leader is Joe Biden.