State of the Union 2023: Biden stresses optimism, calls for cooperation

by Will Tubbs

Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News

It’s funny what one year, still-low polling numbers, and the loss of the House will do for a person’s mood. A year after delivering one of the angrier State of the Union speeches in the nation’s history, President Joe Biden was a far more positive chief executive Tuesday night.

Biden touched on many issues, but his speech can be broken into two primary themes – optimism about the direction of the nation and its economy and calls for cooperation between Republicans and Democrats. Indeed, the only trait the 2022 and 2023 speeches shared was a clear desire by Biden to salvage his popularity.

A year ago, this took the form of the president trying to sound more conservative than the conservatives – a tactic that proved fruitless in the polls. Tuesday night, Biden’s approach was to attempt to placate both sides.

“To my Republican friends, if we could work together in the last Congress, there is no reason we can’t work together in this new Congress,” Biden said. “The people sent us a clear message. Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere. And that’s always been my vision for our country. To restore the soul of the nation.”

For conservatives, the issue is what Biden wants Republicans and Democrats to achieve through cooperation. The soul of the nation, according to Biden, is one that demands access to abortions and gender-affirming care.

“Congress must restore the right the Supreme Court took away last year and codify Roe v. Wade to protect every woman’s constitutional right to choose,” Biden said (much) later in his speech. “The Vice President and I are doing everything we can to protect access to reproductive health care and safeguard patient privacy. But already, more than a dozen states are enforcing extreme abortion bans.

“Make no mistake; if Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it,” Biden added. “Let’s also pass the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity.”

Additionally, Biden pushed for a full ban on assault weapons and “a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers,” two more plans around which the left and right are far apart.

Even though the nation’s divisions over abortion, transgender issues, gun control, and immigration are well established, Biden portrayed himself as a great uniter, at least capable of working with the politicians sent to Washington by conservative voters.

To new Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Biden said, “Mr. Speaker, I don’t want to ruin your reputation, but I look forward to working with you.”

The line drew a laugh from the audience but was actually a joke Biden recycled from a speech he gave last month during a joint appearance with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Biden also returned to his preferred talking points about the economy, which he said was both strong and more equitable, largely ignoring both sky-high inflation numbers and polls that have repeatedly shown that Americans are hurting financially.

“My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten,” Biden said. “Amid the economic upheaval of the past four decades, too many people have been left behind or treated like they’re invisible … That’s why we’re building an economy where no one is left behind. Jobs are coming back, pride is coming back, because of the choices we made in the last two years. This is a blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America and make a real difference in your lives.”

The president also saved room for what has, beyond his profound reliance on lengthy anecdotes, now become almost compulsory rhetoric in a Biden speech – a thorough decrying of Russian President Vladimir Putin and an odd blend of tough and diplomatic talk aimed at China.

“Before I came to office, the story was about how the People’s Republic of China was increasing its power and America was falling in the world,” Biden said. “Not anymore. I’ve made clear with President Xi that we seek competition, not conflict. I will make no apologies that we are investing to make America strong. Investing in American innovation, in industries that will define the future, and that China’s government is intent on dominating.”

Biden struck a decidedly optimistic tone with regard to COVID, which he declared “no longer controls our lives.”