Price on Politics: The President’s first State of the Union Address

Megan+Fisher

Megan Fisher

Price Wilborn, Commentary writer

On March 1, President Joe Biden gave his first State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress. Ukraine, COVID-19 and voting rights were just some of the many issues the President spoke on.

Leading up to the speech, President Biden’s approval ratings stood at 41%, some of the lowest they have been during his first year in office. At a critical point in his presidency with the midterm elections right around the corner, Biden was forced to take a stance on many issues.

This speech was a chance for the President to make up some ground. Speaking directly not only to members of Congress but to the American people gave Biden a chance to make his case on a stage he has not been able to utilize to its fullest.

The President made the best of his opportunity. The first twelve minutes of a speech that lasted over an hour were about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. Biden announced that the United States would close its airspace to flights from Russia. He explained the actions taken so far to deter Russian aggression. 

The rest of the speech was dedicated to the President’s domestic agenda. Biden reflected on legislative victories like the American Rescue Plan, which gave relief to families amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which is “the most sweeping investment to rebuild America in history.”

Biden also spoke about aspects of his domestic agenda that his administration is actively working towards. From job creation, the Cancer Moonshot, lowering the price of prescription drugs and fighting inflation, there was a large amount of programs the President was looking to get passed.

One of the most striking images of the night, however, was that of Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting behind the President during the address. It was the first time in history that two women were seated behind the president.

It was that image that struck me right from the start. It shows how far our country has come. It was only in 2007 that Nancy Pelosi sat behind President George W. Bush as the first female Speaker of the House in the nation’s history.

Here we are, 15 years later, and for the first time at a State of the Union there was not only a female Speaker but a female Vice President, as well. It represents a shift in American politics that is well past due. A shift not only towards a government with more equal representation but one that is more hopeful for all Americans.

After watching the State of the Union, I felt more hopeful about the direction the United States is headed than I have in a long time. The hopeful tone the President kept throughout the speech was a needed departure of the speeches given by President Trump.

The programs and goals outlined in the speech gave me hope. They are needed. They can really help this nation get back on track.

Politically, the President needed a win. I would argue that Biden got exactly what was needed. With his poll numbers as low as they are, he cannot take anymore hits. With the midterm elections fast approaching, Biden set the tone headed into the thick of election season.

Biden reclaimed ideas like “Defund the Police” to create a pivot to the center. Moderate Democrats did not feel forgotten or left behind as they have before. Where the Democratic Party has been slowly moving to the left, President Biden was able to bring moderate Democrats back into the fold.

At the same time, progressives could not feel that the President has ditched their causes. Causes like lowering drug prices and going for big business to help everyday Americans thrive have not been left behind. Things like raising the minimum wage and making college affordable for everyone are still high on the list of the administration’s priorities.

President Biden did exactly what he needed to do. He brought the focus of his administration back to the center at a time when the Democratic Party needed it the most. Historically, the incumbent president’s party has most often lost seats during the midterm elections.

If the White House hopes to keep Democratic majorities in each house–or to keep from losing too many seats–this pivot was needed. Both major parties have been slowly moving closer to each end of their respective sides. Taking the chance to move into the middle not only makes moderate Democrats feel more comfortable with the party, but brings alienated moderate Republicans into play, as well. If the President hopes to keep his majorities in each house of Congress, these centrist voters will be the most important.

Biden did much better in his State of the Union than I expected. Yes, there were the gaffes that inevitably happen in any speech, no matter the speaker. Yes, the right will capitalize on these moments more than the policy that the speech contained. Yes, Biden missed chances to make big statements because of his delivery.

Despite these things, the President’s first State of the Union was a success. He created a sense of hope that hasn’t been seen in a long time. He created a sense that bipartisanship can happen. He made listeners feel that they had been listened to and that they will no longer be left behind.

At the end of his speech, the President captured the essence of hope in a single sentence.

“We’re the only nation on Earth that has always turned every crisis we’ve faced into an opportunity, the only nation that can be defined by a single word: possibilities.”

It is with this hope, opportunity and possibility that I hope the nation brings back to the forefront. Division has been present now more than ever before, but it can be changed.

It is important for politics to become about hope again, not hate; not us against them.

We can do it. We just have to get started.

Commentary writer Price Wilborn can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @pricewilborn.