Quick Hits on the 2023 State of the Union Speech
Here's what I thought about Biden's SOTU address.
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So here are my quick reactions to Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union speech:
The foreign policy and national security portions were pretty small, but Biden got pretty animated in the sections on Ukraine and Russia. He talked about how Republicans and Democrats “came together to defend a stronger and safer Europe.” He roared about Putin’s actions over the past year. And he pledged to the Ukrainian ambassador that, “America is united in our support for your country. We will stand with you as long as it takes.”
All things considered *COUGH* balloon *COUGH* I thought Biden was pretty temperate in his comments on China. He said, “I’ve made clear with President Xi that we seek competition, not conflict” and “I am committed to work with China where it can advance American interests and benefit the world.” Given the hawk fever sweeping the Beltway after the balloon incident, Biden’s China section sounded more moderate than I was expecting.
There was also a lot of talk about America leading the democratic world. Which made the foreign economic policy portions of Biden’s speech all the more jarring.
Do you like protectionism? Then you’re gonna love Joe Biden’s State of the Union! One of the most striking aspect of the speech was the degree to which it echoed Donald Trump’s 2017 Inaugural Address.
Think I’m exaggerating? Quick, who said this?
For decades, the middle class was hollowed out. Too many good-paying manufacturing jobs moved overseas. Factories at home closed down. Once-thriving cities and towns became shadows of what they used to be.
And who said this?
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuddered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.
Those paeans to economic nostalgia seem pretty interchangeable to me! And Biden did not stop there. He also pledged that “We’re making sure the supply chain for America begins in America.” Then he really leaned into his “Buy American” plan:
Buy American has been the law of the land since 1933. But for too long, past administrations have found ways to get around it.
Tonight, I’m also announcing new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America.
American-made lumber, glass, drywall, fiber optic cables.
And on my watch, American roads, American bridges, and American highways will be made with American products.
I get the politics of this, but it’s bad economics and bad foreign policy. And it will not reassure anxious U.S. allies about the future of the liberal international order that I recall so many Democrats defending just a few short years ago.
As for the optics of the speech: it was not Biden’s best delivery. He mangled a lot of his best lines. At times he sounded very, very old. Intriguingly, however, his best moments came when the GOP members of Congress got feisty and he ad-libbed his responses.
It leads me to wonder if Joe Biden is, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, a lousy, rotten person to be president — until you consider the alternatives.
I'm afraid that my more measured take is pretty much the same: https://www.chathamhouse.org/2023/02/state-union-has-lessons-transatlantic-unity
I generally love your analysis but I think you missed the boat on Biden’s comments tonight. First, what more should he/we have done except shoot the damn balloon down? Seems like we established our defense of sovereignty as shown by China’s relative silence. Biden refused to escalate the rhetoric (and was shown to be correct by the Republican heckling on the point). Second, the impact of Chinese manufacturing (aka the liberal economic order) is exactly what devastated middle America and provided a rich stew for MAGAism. It may have been great for American consumers (who didn’t happen to be industrial workers) and for American corporate investment in China, but that’s the point. Well, it was late in your part of the world, so we can all take a second look tomorrow!