Tuesday night President Joe Biden delivered his first official State of the Union address to Congress and to the American people. Near the end, he delivered what has become a standard line in virtually all State of the Union speeches. “The state of the union is strong” proclaimed the president. “I am more optimistic about America today than I have ever been in my life.”
Sadly, Mr. Biden seems to be virtually alone in his optimism and surety that the state of America is strong. The most recent NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll shows that 56% of Americans think Mr. Biden’s first year in office was a failure. That strong majority includes 66% of independent voters. ABC and The Washington Post teamed up on another poll last week that found 75% of Americans think the economy is in bad shape.
In fact, consumer confidence has fallen every month since April of 2021. That means that within 75 days of Mr. Biden taking office, American consumers grew less and less confident in their expected financial situation in the coming twelve months, with confidence dropping every single month.
There was little about the State of Union affair that instilled confidence or strength. The fencing around the Capitol reappeared this past week, creating a literal barrier between elected officials and the people they are supposed to represent.
Mr. Biden opened his speech with bravado and promises of unwavering support for Ukraine as they weather a full-on assault from Russia. That might have meant more if Mr. Biden hadn’t offered Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy safe harbor in the United States about 48 hours after Russia invaded. Nothing says “surrender” quite like a fleeing head of state, yet that was Mr. Biden’s idea of how to help. In response to the pathetic offer, Mr. Zelenskyy issued a statement saying “I need ammunition, NOT a ride.”
In a further demonstration of the stark difference between Mr. Zelenskyy and Mr. Biden, the Ukraine president sat amongst his troops in the fog of war, sharing hot tea and conversation. Mr. Biden spent last weekend (again), arguably also in a fog, was tucked away out of view at his family compound in Delaware.
The very nature of politics is that some will agree and some will disagree, no matter the issue. What some consider a great victory, others may believe to be a terrible travesty. For example, when then-president Barack Obama agreed to the Paris accords, promising to combat climate change, the left celebrated a great victory. The right saw it as utter poppycock. Thus is the nature of political discourse.
Some things, however, can’t be interpreted as positive, no matter which side of the aisle you are sitting on. As Mr. Biden labored through his one-hour, two-minute speech I began to assemble a list of things that fall into that indisputable category. Here is a partial list:
Gas prices at the pump impact virtually every American, every business and the prices of nearly all products. In the week that ended just prior to the 2020 Presidential election, the average price of a gallon of gas was $2.11. Currently, the national average is $3.61 per gallon. There is no way to paint that as a positive. Mr. Biden’s policies, including halting oil/gas leases on federal lands (20% of US production) and shutting down construction on the Keystone pipeline didn’t change world demand for oil one bit, but it sure did damage the supply. In the basic economics of supply and demand, gas price increases can be tied directly to Biden policies.
Inflation is roaring like a wildfire in heavy winds, cutting into the value of each dollar earned by every American. It is currently at the highest rate since February of 1982. In the last 100 plus years, there have been four periods of huge inflation spikes. The first was during and after WWI. The next was during and immediately after WWII. The third was a result of the Jimmy Carter era and the fourth is now, under Joe Biden.
Mr. Biden acknowledged inflation in the State of the Union speech, claiming to have a plan to curb it. His plan? Cut the cost of prescription drugs. Cut the cost of child care. Lower the price of EV cars. Unfortunately, the government controls none of these things. It reminds me of an old routine by legendary comedian Steve Martin. Mr. Martin promised to explain how to make a million dollars and never pay taxes. “First,” Martin deadpanned, “get a million dollars. Then, simply don’t pay taxes.” Mr. Biden’s plan to stop inflation is every bit as solid.
Another item that is tough for anyone to argue is a good thing is the flood of illegal immigrants pouring over America’s southern border. Mr. Biden’s policies have been the polar opposite of former President Donald Trump’s for no apparent reason other than his disdain for Mr. Trump. The statistics are crystal clear on which policy worked and which didn’t. According to the New York Times, illegals were encountered 1.7 million times in 2021. If accurate, that would be the highest number since at least 1960. There is no way to offer a positive spin on that.
In education, under Mr.Trump, the high school graduation rate in America reached an all-time high of 85.6%. Conversely, the dropout rate was at an all-time low at 6%. After just one year of Mr. Biden, graduation rates dropped for the first time since the 2015/2016 year. Is it a coincidence that the last time it dipped was under Obama/Biden? Probably not.
Mr. Biden proudly and publicly fancies himself as the champion of the Black man. The real-life numbers of his presidency, however, show a different story. Under Mr. Trump, Black Americans enjoyed record low unemployment and record high Median Household Income. Under Mr. Biden, not so much. Black unemployment is now more than two times the unemployment rate for whites. Again, there isn’t any way to spin that as having an upside.
Even with the Washington PR machine working overtime there aren’t a lot of victories for Mr. Biden to claim. Perhaps the most glaring failure wasn’t in the speech itself but in the president’s entry and exit from the House Chambers.
Mr. Biden campaigned on unifying Washington and bringing together America, yet has done virtually nothing to achieve this goal. He managed to give it lip service again during his speech, tossing out the pious line, “Let’s stop seeing each other as enemies but start seeing each other for what we are, fellow Americans.” It’s a wonderful line, but his actions fell short.
When a president enters the Chamber to give his State of the Union address two things typically happen. First, in recognition of the office and of unity in our country, both parties cheer and applaud the entrance of the president. Second, the president walks down the aisle, turning from side to side, shaking hands of members of both parties and engaging in short friendly banter. Traditionally it reminds America we are all on the same team.
For Mr. Biden’s entrance, when the Sergeant at Arms shouted, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States!” both sides cheered loudly. An odd thing happened next, however. Mr. Biden worked the Democrat side of the aisle and virtually ignored the GOP side, shaking hands with only two Republicans total during his entrance and exit. The president literally turned his back on one party. So much for the promise of unity.
There was a glaring reminder that this is a Congressional election year. Team Biden must have done some serious polling and sat in with focus groups prior to this speech because at least two of the lines were completely contrary to the Democrat playbook of the past two years. After Democrats spent much of 2020 and 2021 leading chants of “Defund the Police” while crime rates simultaneously spiked, Mr. Biden suddenly felt the urge to utter the phrase “Fund the Police” not once but twice. Likewise, despite opening and ignoring the Mexican border since day one in office, Mr. Biden proclaimed the need to “secure the border.” No kidding. A line in a speech is great, but there is no indication of any intent to go back to previous, more effective border policies.
During the first half of his speech, Mr. Biden tried to emphasize how difficult his job is by saying the last two years have been “two of the hardest years our nation has ever faced.” To that many must have scratched their heads and wondered, Revolutionary War? Civil War? Jim Crow era? WWI? The Great Depression? WWII? 1968?
If Mr. Biden actually believes the last two years were the most difficult in our nation’s history, Congress and the nation were listening to his State of Confusion address.
• Tim Constantine is a columnist for The Washington Times and hosts “The Capitol Hill Show” podcast every week from Washington, D.C.