Wish for Humility Goes Unfulfilled in State of the Union

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Commentary

Before he gave it, President Joe Biden’s State of the Union Address was widely expected to be a “re-boot” or a “reset” of his floundering presidency—an acknowledgment of past mistakes while setting at least something of a new course for the future in order to avoid making any more of them.

Last month, David Axelrod, identified as “chief strategist” of the Obama-Biden campaigns of 2008 and 2012, looked forward to the speech by writing in The New York Times, “Mr. President, It’s Time for a Little Humility.”

John Kenneth White wrote for The Hill in the same vein that “Americans are not in the mood for Donald Trump-like cheerleading but rather for Harry Truman’s plain speaking. Biden must reassure anxious Americans that he understands their plight and has proposals that make a real difference.”

Turns out that the president doesn’t really do humility. Or plain speaking. Nor was what Axelrod called “his preternatural empathy” about the “everyday challenges” of working people very much in evidence.

Instead, he told them that the inflation—which is the main thing people are “anxious” about and which has been so largely caused by his administration’s own runaway spending—could be and would be cured by yet more government spending, coupled with price controls on prescription drugs and gasoline.

Like every other speech he has given since he has been president, the State of the Union was delivered in sublime unconsciousness of his own failures as he pretended to see nothing but success, both behind him and ahead of him.

True, there were a few signals of a change in the Biden message of last year—or of a wish for change, which is not necessarily the same thing—even if they weren’t acknowledged as such.

Now, for example, he professes to think that “the answer [to crime] is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police.” He didn’t think it worth mentioning who it was who thought less than two years ago that the answer was to defund the police; nor did he allude to those of his fellow Democrats in municipal offices who did defund them and otherwise restrict their efforts to fight crime, or the subsequent rise in crime rates in those cities.

To such officials he was full of reassurance that it wasn’t necessary, after all, to “choose between safety and equal justice.” So that was all right then.

Another change in the Biden tune which pretended to be no change came when he said that “if we are to advance liberty and justice, we need to secure our border and fix the immigration system.”

Of course, there was no mention of the extent to which these things had been done already by his despised predecessor, and done with measures that he himself had abolished the moment he assumed office.

In the unlikely event that he does “secure the border,” therefore, it will not be a change but a change back.

One change that happened even before the speech began and that wasn’t mentioned during it was the decision to do away with mask mandates, at least for the Congressional representatives in attendance. Likewise, he suddenly made the case that “our kids need to be in school”—when it is his allies in the teachers’ unions who have been keeping them out of school.

Rhetorically, he continued to beat up on the Chinese virus: “I know some are talking about living with COVID-19,” he said, “but tonight, I say that we never will just accept living with COVID-19; we’ll continue to combat the virus as we do other diseases.”

The poor old fellow didn’t appear to understand that what people mean when they say we have to live with the virus is precisely that we have to treat it as we do other diseases and not shut down our economy and education system in fear of it.

With so little to say that had not been said before, it’s not surprising that the president led off with and spent much of the speech on the Russo-Ukrainian war and giving a good tongue-lashing to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he said had “miscalculated” by invading Ukraine. Now we and our NATO allies are said to be “holding him accountable” for his actions by imposing stringent economic sanctions on Russia.

Not, however, to the extent that we will refuse to buy the Russian oil we need because of restrictions placed on domestic oil production by one Joseph R. Biden III.

Here, too, there was no mention of all that his own administration had done to bring about the unfortunate situation he was now purporting to rectify—by slowing arms shipments to Ukraine, by approving the Nord Stream 2 pipeline supplying Russian gas to Europe, and by signaling in advance that his administration would not militarily oppose a Russian invasion.

As usual, when a politician says that “we” have to “hold someone accountable” for something, it’s less than transparent what he means by the expression. Biden said of his Russian adversary that “he has no idea what’s coming.”

But there was no indication that he himself had any better idea of what’s coming—apart from the typical progressive confidence that being on “the right side of history” makes him immune to Putin-style “miscalculation.”

He did mention that he planned to do what his party does best and seize the property of any “Russian oligarchs” careless enough to have left “their yachts, their luxury apartments, their private jets” lying around within his reach, but even he can hardly imagine that this is going to stop Putin in his tank tracks.

On the other hand, he ended his speech with a mysterious injunction to “Go get ’em!”—so perhaps he thought that he had asked the assembled congressfolk for a declaration of war.

I’m afraid that Axelrod’s wish for “a little humility” on the part of our president was never going to be fulfilled. The State of the Union has long since been transmogrified into the state of the presidency, and rarely has the state of both union and presidency been so parlous as it is today—or so little acknowledged as such by the president.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

James Bowman

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James Bowman is a resident scholar at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The author of “Honor: A History,” he is a movie critic for The American Spectator and the media critic for The New Criterion.



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