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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Amid political chaos, Biden stood strong

Five key takeaways from the 2023 State of the Union Address


By CLAIRE SCHAD — cfschad@ucdavis.edu


As the house chamber filled on Feb. 7, many were unsure of how President Joe Biden would perform in his second State of the Union address. Amid political chaos, would he be able to stand out and make a case for his reelection campaign or would he fall flat? Here is a list of what I found to be most important in this year’s address.


President Biden’s focus on working-class issues could help him in 2024


In its entirety, the State of the Union address provides a platform for the current president to tout the accomplishments of their administration. Often, they will highlight areas that they know are relatable to the American public and avoid other, larger — or more controversial — issues. 

This is especially true for presidents seeking reelection in upcoming years and was exactly the case in Biden’s 2023 address, where a majority of the speech was spent on topics that affect the everyday American. Some of these issues included “junk fees” tacked onto airline tickets, credit card late fees and access to broadband internet. After all, these are all issues that are difficult to argue against, which could help Biden’s approval ratings. 


America first was a constant theme


It was clear that Biden was targeting working-class Americans. Much of the speech was spent discussing efforts to reduce the dependence on foreign nations in the manufacturing industry. “Made in America” was a recurring theme throughout the speech. This targeted approach was a clear attempt to gain votes in a region critical for his reelection. 

So, was this effective? I think so. By including topics that many Americans have some experience and knowledge about, he was able to appeal to a broader audience. Often, many Americans can be put off by politics because it feels like elite-level issues are prioritized over those of the common working class. I am not saying that Biden was fully successful in this, but he did a fairly good job of speaking to the American people about issues they care about. 


Per usual, guests were used as political props


This brings us to the next issue of the State of the Union that I think myself and many others find somewhat awkward — the use of presidential guests as talking points throughout the speech.

Each year, the president and their administration carefully select individuals to invite to the address. These people have ranged from the family members of shooting victims to widows of army sergeants to cancer survivors. While not all of the guests are explicitly brought up during the speech, many of them receive the spotlight as the president offers remarks on relevant policy issues.

This year, some of the notable guests included the parents of Tyre Nichols, an unarmed Black man who died at the hands of multiple Memphis police officers, Brandon Tsay, the man who courageously disarmed the shooter in the Monterey Park mass shooting and Paul Pelosi, who was violently attacked in his home by a politically motivated intruder. While I see how it can be effective to humanize some of America’s worst problems and highlight proposed solutions, the use of guests felt superficial and unnatural. 


Biden handled hecklers better than expected


Despite the previously mentioned awkward use of guests throughout the speech, Biden was able to effectively touch on some more controversial topics. With the mention of issues such as divestment from big oil, Medicare and Social Security, the president received large waves of “boos” and heckling from GOP members

However, he didn’t let these outbursts derail his speech, instead responding in a way that encouraged unanimous agreement on the protections of Medicare and Social Security — two issues that were under attack from some GOP members. Biden’s ability to go off script and engage with his opponents was a refreshing and very successful addition to his address. 

Additionally, he used restraint amid chants and loud outbursts from members of Congress and kept the spotlight on himself. This ensured that members from the opposing party received minimal airtime, maximizing the impact of the president’s words. 


Biden made a strong case for his reelection


Despite frequent criticisms from members of both parties, Biden took advantage of the platform and demonstrated why he remains a viable candidate for reelection. The phrase “finish the job” was repeated nine times throughout the address, all but explicitly confirming the president’s intentions to run for reelection in 2024. 

Biden is preparing to ask voters to keep him in office until he is 86 years old, so it was crucial that he came in with energy that proved he was capable of continuing in this role. He accomplished this by handling heckling from his opponents, engaging at the appropriate moments and showing up with vigor and a sense of relatability. 


Written by: Claire Schad — cfschad@ucdavis.edu 


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