State of the Union: The Good, Bad and the Ugly

Two of our Opinion’s Editors break down the annual address.

On February 8, President Joe Biden delivered his annual State of the Union Speech. Biden had a lot to talk about, from inflation, to the war in Ukraine to rampant political violence. Biden’s speech took an hour and thirteen minutes to address these issues and several others, and seems to have been well-received by those sympathetic to Biden. Others, however — especially far-right Republicans — were disappointed by the speech, some members of Congress went so far as to shout jeers at Biden throughout the address. Regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum, there’s a lot to analyze about the State of the Union. This is the good, bad and ugly of Biden’s State of the Union Address according to our editorial board. 


Good- Biden Calls Out Republicans on Social Security 

Early in the Address, Congressional Republicans made it clear that they would be antagonistic throughout the speech. Many Republicans like Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene shouted jeers at Biden throughout, something that quickly backfired when social security cuts came up. Biden stated, correctly, that many Republicans were proposing cuts to social security benefits, and was met with immediate boos from the audience. Taylor-Greene took it a step further, standing up, giving a thumbs down, and shouting “Liar!” There’s not much ambiguity about who’s right here- the Republican plans to cut social security are publicly available, but the denial of this basic reality is useful for Biden. After these jeers, Biden remarked “So folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books now, right?” This rebuttal doesn’t mean Republicans won’t cut social security, but it does mean they’ll have to go back on their very public insistence that social security cuts are off the table. Economic issues have been a sticking point for Biden among voters, so calling his opposition’s bluff on social security both makes him look strong and puts his opposition in a rough position if they try to pursue their proposed cuts in the future. 


Good- George Santos Put in His Place

During the SOTU, Mitt Romney told the controversial freshman Representative, George Santos, that “you don’t belong here.” Albeit, Biden was not involved in this development, but it showed a moment of unity across partisan lines. Santos has been repeatedly under fire for his fabricated resume which has revealed a vast web of lies. From lying about his alma mater, to prior job experience and campaign financing; Santos’ entire platform is bogus. Furthermore, it seems like Santos’ entire life is a lie, with credible evidence revealing that he lied about his mom dying in 9/11, his ancestors dying in the Holocaust and lying about his heritage. Santos’ very presence in Congress sets a harmful and frightening precedent for future candidates, and his presence has not been condemned by all Congressional Republicans. Romney using the national stage to make such a statement — a statement supported by a large number of Republicans — was a positive show of unity and a sign of healing from the political “culture war.” 


Bad- Biden spoke too soon on Collaboration 

Early in the speech, Biden touted how Republicans and Democrats are finally coming together to work on policy, but the audience’s behavior reflected that it just wasn’t true. The jeers and political theater by republicans just underscores the persistent division in Congress and beyond. Biden was ignorant to try and boast collaboration in the wake of Kevin McCarthy’s drawn-out and divisive election for speaker of the House. And this claim of collaboration was quickly disproved during the speech. 


Bad- Biden Shameless After Selling Out Rail Workers

One of the most jaw-dropping moments in Biden’s address was his poorly timed promotion of labor unions and paid sick leave. For a bit of context, Biden praising labor unions and advocating sick leave came just a few months after Biden requested Congress impose a contract on rail workers to prevent a strike. The reason that a strike was being proposed is because rail workers were given no guaranteed paid sick leave whatsoever. As Biden noted in his Address, we are one of the only wealthy countries in the world that don’t guarantee sick leave for our workers. Another major reason for the potential strike is serious safety concerns raised by workers. The environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio proved the Union’s concerns were valid. Workers have been warning that deregulation and lack of safety standards would lead to something like this happening. Unfortunately, Biden’s actions spoke louder than his words here, as he urged Congress to impose a sick leave-free contract on rail workers with no additional safety requirements. If Congress has the authority to impose contract terms on a union, they have the same authority to impose terms on a company, meaning they have every right to put paid sick leave in the contract. They choose not to.  For Biden to call himself a pro-environment and pro-worker president is true only in times of convenience, when the stakes get raised, he’ll side with corporate profits. 


Ugly- The Republican Response was an Uncontrollable Mess

When discussing this Address in particular, the Republican response is absolutely unavoidable. Some of Biden’s best moments were arguing with and throwing digs at his rowdy opposition. Biden remained calm and civil even while being shouted down, in fact, Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy seemed much more miffed by his party’s jabs than Biden was. At a few points, he can even be seen speaking directly to Representatives in a futile attempt to shut them up. Far-right Republicans embarrassed themselves and their party with childish jeers, but this is to be expected. A greater embarrassment is to be Speaker of the House, the highest ranking member of your party, and publicly fail to bring these fringes under control. This came only a few weeks after McCarthy’s campaign for speaker of the house was obstructed by the far right for over a dozen votes in a row. For a moderate Republican, this is a tough situation to be in. Taylor-Greene and others in her sect of the party benefit from the types of behavior they displayed at the state of the Union. Clearly a far-right voter base would like this disruptive and fringe behavior, if not, they wouldn’t consistently vote for it, but there are only a few districts where these behaviors and agendas can win elections. Where does this leave the majority of the party? That’s not so clear, seeing as most of the party’s messaging across the board surrounds opposing Biden or the left in general, but lacks an agenda to stand on its own. This might explain the explosion of mediocrity that was Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ response speech. Very little of what Biden said got any kind of response, and Sanders’ speech was clearly finalized before the state of the union even started, leaving it as a jumble of generic right-wing talking points. It had the civility that the fringes of Sander’s party lacked, but on substance her response was completely hollow. 


Ugly- Biden’s Segue into Calling for an Assault Rifle Ban was a Mess

Biden used the recent Monterey Park shooting to demand a ban on assault weapons. To do this, Biden brought on Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the shooter that killed 11 last month. But Biden’s feature wasn’t to congratulate or thank Tsay, instead Biden called for a ban on assault weapons. This effort was confusing and ineffective considering that the weapons used in the Monterey Park shooting were pistols, not assault rifles. Biden used Tsay to simply appeal to emotion, and detract from the missing grounds to his argument, which reads like a textbook example of an appeal to emotion fallacy. Biden justified the need of the ban by referencing his 1994 act that banned assault weapons and caused mass shootings to go down, or so he claimed. However, a 2020 RAND Corporation — a notorious pro-gun control think tank — review of gun studies, concluded there is “inconclusive evidence for the effect of assault weapon bans on mass shootings.” Furthermore, “assault weapons” — which are fully automatic weapons as defined by the AF — are illegal and have been for 40 years. That’s not to say that there isn’t a problem with shootings in the US, Biden is just barking up the wrong tree by trying to ban AR-style weapons because voters seem to view them as the perpetrator of gun crimes; when by the numbers, handguns and mental illness meeting guns claims far more lives.