Biden gave 'speech of his life' at SOTU. Here are 3 things he did right and 3 things he got wrong

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President Joe Biden gave the speech of his life on Thursday night, belting out what was in effect a Democratic convention speech under the guise of the State of the Union, carefully timed after Super Tuesday to frame the presidential race as a progressive future against "a predecessor" of hate and revenge.

Here are some things that went right and wrong in the speech.

What went right from the Biden camp’s perspective -- 

The president hit just about every bell from more Pell grants, increased prescription drug benefits, the assault rifle ban, and taxing the wealthy and the big corporations while recognizing unions as the backbone of the American worker.  Democrats were stomping and cheering and this speech was designed to get that reaction, as they chanted "four more years."


The president hit back hard on reproductive freedom, bashing the Supreme Court justices sitting right there in the House Chamber over Roe vs. Wade, and picking up smartly on the new issues surrounding IVF. 

He later announced a women’s health initiative set up by First Lady Jill Biden. He appealed to the political power of women, and they are the likely swing vote he needs and that Trump has the most trouble getting. The Republicans know that too, as they featured Alabama Sen. Katie Britt to deliver the rebuttal speech.

Overall, the president seemed in command of his ideas and coherently attacked his opponents and was forceful and even rousing. Working against the findings revealed in the Hur report, which painted him as dottering and forgetful, he seemed largely in command and in control, recognizing his friends and engaging in repartee with the Republicans. The Republicans are now calling him "angry," and he is no happy warrior, but on the age issue, the speech was a win for Biden. 


And here are the 3 things that went wrong:

Typically, a State of the Union draws a wide audience and reaches out to the other party to find some common ground on the big issues. Biden repeatedly attacked former President Trump drawing sharp contrasts even hitting January 6th early in the speech. Even the Supreme Court was pummeled, violating the concept that the very point of the speech is that it brings all of the branches and all of the parties together.  

About the only time everyone in the chamber applauded was over the promise to get the return of American hostages still being held in Gaza by Hamas. This was, of course, not by accident but by design. What does this tell us? We can expect that the strategy of the Biden campaign going forward is fundamentally to play to the base and maximize turnout. 

That was the message in this speech and that was a stretch of reality given that most voters think the country is off in the wrong direction and see themselves as struggling with inflation and angry over an open border and high crime rates. 

The 10.4 million migrants crossing over the border in this worldview was the fault of the Republicans for not passing a bipartisan Senate bill despite three years of the administration denying that there was any problem at the border. 

This is a major disconnect from what the voters are thinking and feeling, but it is a consistent strategy of denying any problems and maintaining that Biden has one of the most successful records in presidential history despite some of the lowest poll ratings of any incumbent. 


Israel was thrown under the bus on Thursday night, as the emphasis was on providing help to Gaza. While he asked Congress to support Ukraine aid, he never asked Congress to pass the military aid proposal for Israel and its people. Somehow, the U.S. will be building a temporary port to get aid to Gaza without putting any boots on the ground; it’s a dangerous move that Israel supports because it puts America on the frontline of delivering aid, most of which is often stolen by Hamas anyway. 

Clearly, the politics of the Mideast and the threats out of Michigan are having an effect, since just a few months ago Biden lumped Israel and Ukraine together as dual examples of fighting evil. Not on Thursday night. 

When I worked on State of the Union speeches with President Clinton, the goal was to bring the country together and entice swing voters because it was a rare bipartisan audience.

One rule was to use no words or slogans that we would use in a political speech, as this was history, not politics.  

The idea here going into the election season was the opposite, and so the White House achieved its goal and showed that Joe Biden is ready to run an aggressive campaign that will take on both Trump and the Republicans based on the values of  "Honesty. Decency. Dignity. Equality." 

Polls in the next week or so will tell us whether he failed to connect with everyday Americans on their problems or instead successfully rallied the base enough to begin a comeback. 


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