By Patrick Lawrence / Original to ScheerPost
O.K., you have a speech of 7,000–odd words to deliver to Congress. It ought to run about an hour as these things go. But you have nothing to say.
Call Joe Biden.
He certainly got the job done Tuesday evening. But I am confused as to our 46th president’s third State of the Union speech.
On the one hand, I read here and there in the major dailies that this was among the most important speeches of Biden’s presidency, falling as it did midway in his term and delivered to a divided Congress. On the other, I read in so many words—in so very many many—that there was nothing in it. “Much of the president’s speech was vintage Biden,” I read in Wednesday’s editions of The New York Times, “full of phrasing he has used since the beginning of his first campaigns a half-century ago.”
See what I mean? The thought of vintage Biden takes me back to university days, when all we could afford of a Friday evening were Mateus and those other sickly sweet Portuguese rosés.
“The story of America is the story of progress and resilience…. We’re writing the next chapter in the great American story…. To restore the soul of this nation…. To build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out….” And so on until we are deep into Hallmark card territory with, “My Dad used to say, ‘Joey, a job is about a lot more than just a paycheck.’” Please pass the Lancer’s.
What would America be without Dad Biden, not to mention Joey himself? Biden père et fils deserve a congressional medal for keeping 325 million Americans properly supplied with cornpone.
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But I have this all wrong, Jeff Nussbaum, a former Biden speechwriter, tells me. Nussbaum has done exceptionally well as the press’s dial-a-quotation man in the runup to Tuesday evening’s speech and the commentary since. Here’s my favorite, delivered to The Times’s Katie Rogers and published in Monday’s editions: “Joe Biden has to say the same thing a thousand times before the world catches up to him.”
Is this a gem or what? Joey the visionary. As they used to say back in the fifties, “What’ll they think of next?”
To digress briefly that we may keep all this folksy silliness in perspective, I note the inimitable Sy Hersh’s extraordinary exposé, published Wednesday morning in his spanking new Substack newsletter, in which he tells us in incontrovertible detail of the Biden White House’s covert op to detonate the Nord Stream pipelines last September—a vicious betrayal of the Europeans, a flagrant violation of international law, a reckless escalation of tensions with the Russian Federation, and, as those who planned and executed the Nord Stream operation told Hersh they knew very well, an act of war.
This is who addressed Congress Tuesday, hauling out yet again the I’m-just-Joey act. Sy’s piece, reported with technical advice from Ted Postol, the emeritus science prof at MIT, can be read here.
If you dwell a moment on the difference between what Biden said in Congress Tuesday and what Sy Hersh published Wednesday, you will understand a great deal about America and why it is so very broken.
In the wider world, when someone tells you he or she has no politics, it cannot be taken at face value. Nobody has no politics: It is impossible to be alive and have no politics. People who say such things have stated their politics—the politics of the status quo. It is the same with people who use a lot of words to say nothing, and so it is with Biden’s stunningly empty State of the Union performance. In telling Americans nothing he has told Americans something important.
What would this be?
Reminder: This is the man who reassured Wall Street during his 2020 campaign, when he was milking big investors for donations, “Nothing will fundamentally change.” He needed to say that because he had been pretending to breathe fire by way of reregulating The Street.
It is only two years since Biden’s opening act in the White House, wherein he promised Americans a treasure chest of their very own— an infrastructure plan worth multiple trillions of dollars, student debt relief, health care reform, lower prescription drug prices, and so on just short of the moon. This was the second coming of FDR, some kind of new New Deal. No shortage of grandeur, if you recall.
Biden knew what he was doing. He knew he would never have the numbers on Capitol Hill to get much of this done, if any of it, indeed. It was all performance. He would keep his word to Wall Street, if not to the rest of America.
He did the same thing Tuesday evening, in a watered-down version of the watered-down version of what has actually come to pass since his inauguration. No promises this time. No new initiatives. And as Joey the liar never misses a chance to do his thing, Biden had the nerve to boast of what Democrats eeked through the House and Senate on, for example, the infrastructure side—a plan worth trillions only when reckoned over a decade, an inadequate pittance on an annual basis—this a fact American media note only with reluctance and rarely at that.
It has long been evident that the so-called progressives in the Democratic Party act out brave political positions on social media, in stencils on the backs of formal gowns, and elsewhere while going along and getting along in mainstream Democratic politics and getting nothing of consequence done. Now our president gets up to the same sideshow: Snow the great broad masses while making sure nothing fundamentally changes.
The best part of this speech is what voters had to say just prior to it. More than 40 percent of those who participated in a Washington Post–ABC News poll told Biden in advance they weren’t buying his version of Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America” bit, which is a fair description of what Biden has on offer.
I was curious what Biden would have to say about the most significant policies of his presidency by a long way. These are his instigation of a proxy war against Russia and the ensuing flood of money, weapons, and matériel into Ukraine; his associated bullying of the Europeans into submission, and what now looks like a full-court press across the Pacific in the anti–China campaign Biden inherited straight from Mike Pompeo, the Trump administration’s rabid bulldog. In dollars and cents terms, I read Washington is on the way to spending $100 billion on the Ukraine conflict alone.
Biden mentioned “a stronger and safer Europe,” never mind it is neither. He spoke of Ukraine all of four times—once to complain about inflation, once to mention the grain shortage, once to call Vladimir Putin brutal, and once to welcome the Ukrainian ambassador to his audience.
It was roughly the same with China—six mentions, nothing in them but the now-familiar pabulum: “I’m committed to work with China where we can advance American interests and benefit the world. But make no mistake about it: As we made clear last week, if China threatens our sovereignty, we will act to protect our country. And we did.”
I suppose Biden referred to the balloon incident. And I suppose we are to take the Air Force’s downing of a weather balloon off the coast of South Carolina as a measure of Joe Biden’s unwavering valor. And I suppose he thought Americans need be told nothing else about the brewing crisis with China. May I leave this passage of the speech without further comment?
Joe Biden did say one thing I thought was eminently honest:
For decades the middle class has been hollowed out, and more than—no one administration, but for a long time. Too many good-paying manufacturing jobs moved overseas. Factories closed down. Once-thriving cities and towns that many of you represent became shadows of what they used to be. And along the way something else was lost. Pride. Our sense of self-worth.
I was very moved by this brief passage. It has long been a source of sadness to me to watch Americans lose not only livelihoods but their self-respect, psychologically stripped down to a pervasive feeling of shame, socially isolated as Chris Hedges noted recently in these pages.
What makes Joey so preposterous an author of these words is the quite substantial extent to which he is responsible for what he described, the extent to which he takes no responsibility for his record in the Senate and since, the extent to which he makes no serious promises now to do anything about it—the extent, in short, to which there is no chance anything will fundamentally change so long as he lives in the White House.
These things Biden told us Tuesday evening.