Strange State

It’s highly unusual for a new president to address Congress within his first year, much less his first hundred days. With a near-deserted hall (thanks to COVID) in a fortified building surrounded by heavily armed riot police and not a few National Guardsmen, tonight’s address made history in several ways.

What wasn’t unusual was the content. Although it was delivered in an almost informal, folksy style, we heard exactly what we expected to. The tone was optimistic, and the message was clear: Biden laid out his agenda for the coming months, and he expects to make it happen. How, exactly, is another question entirely.

On the plus side, it’s long been the President’s job to wave the flag, and that’s what Biden did. He announced that businesses are reopening, the economy is starting to boom, vaccines are going out fast, and people are going back to work. Of course, as the rebuttal from the Republican Senator Tim Scott pointed out, it’s hardly Biden’s doing; vaccines were rolling out under Trump, and the Christmas spike was already subsiding when Biden took office. Nevertheless, the positive message was both timely and (speaking for myself) appropriate.

It would be absurd to point out all the things Biden pointed out that were Trump’s accomplishments, and his own failures to meet his campaign promises. (If you’re interested, Senator Scott’s rebuttal does all that.) It would be equally pointless to merely reiterate his talking points; if you want to watch the speech, it’s out there too. And no doubt you’ll see the memes of his gaffes over the next few days; “When I was President” is sure to become a hit without my help.

Still, for those without an hour or so to spare, it may be helpful to lay out a few bullet points:

  • Infrastructure: He’s proposing massive spending on the drinking water supply, roads, bridges, rail, and freight hubs. Included in this spending package is (depending on how you count) approximately twice that amount in other programs.
  • Families Act: He’s presented a plan to assist with child tax credits, free daycare, education, and so on. The price tag is immense compared to anything other than the preceding infrastructure plan.
  • Healthcare reform: Without making any specific concrete proposals, he asked Congress to cap prescription drug prices and make healthcare affordable. “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege.”
  • Tax hikes: He wants to match the capital gains tax to the top marginal rate, which he also wants to increase. He also proposes eliminating tax havens and taxing corporations — though not precisely how.
  • China: He has pointed out that China is in deadly earnest, and that we are compelled to meet their challenge. He mentioned Russia, Iran, and North Korea as adversaries. And he used the term “The Forever War” to describe Afghanistan.
  • Gun Control: He wants a high-capacity magazine ban, an assault rifle ban, background check loopholes, and so on. He issued a tacit challenge to the Second Amendment as a threat, then asked for common sense solutions as a counter. The message was couched in gun-rights jargon and aimed at the NRA and Republican Senators, not the average citizen, and I’m certain it was understood.
  • Compromise: He called for bipartisan action on things we all agree on.

Bottom line: This was a campaign speech underlining the need for Congressional action on upcoming policy initiatives combined with a well-delivered paean to American greatness, resilience, and ability. He echoed Kennedy, Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and George W. Bush of all people. While I oppose several of his proposals, it was a good speech and timely, and one well worth listening to.

Then again, so was the rebuttal.

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