Friday, March 1

The delicate balance Biden needs for his State of the Union speech

The job of a presidential speechwriter isn’t easy. It’s especially difficult as the State of the Union approaches. And it’s even more difficult when a speechwriter must integrate an unprovoked, unjustified attack by a wily dictator on a sovereign nation and ally. 

But that is the challenge that President BidenJoe BidenRubio skipping SOTU over COVID-19 testing mandate: ‘I don’t have time’ Arizona GOP asks court to strike down vote-by-mail system US sees Putin nuke threat as posturing MORE’s speechwriters face as the world watches in horror while Russia continues its intrusion into Ukraine. Now, a speech that is typically focused on domestic issues becomes a tremendous opportunity for Biden to make the administration’s case for the support, sanctions and long-term plan they have created with our NATO and democratic allies to protect Ukraine’s security and excise Russia from the world order.

This undoubtedly will be a central focus of his address. In that discussion, Biden will have to strike a delicate balance between our unwavering support for the Ukrainian government and its people and the fact that the American public has little appetite for U.S. involvement in another war. An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that just 26 percent say America should have a major role in the conflict, 52 percent say we should play a minor role, and 20 percent say we should have no role at all.

Beyond the need for the State of the Union to showcase Biden as clear-eyed, in control, and in sync with American priorities when it comes to Ukraine, the president must make a return to the Biden of the campaign trail who led with his heart and empathy.

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Though Biden can take pride in much of what he did during his first year in office, the electorate is in no mood for political bragging. He may hope that his legacy is that he “restored the soul of this country,” as he said recently, but Americans are not there yet. 

More than 60 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track and they are facing very real challenges. A recent Pew survey found that Americans’ top priorities for 2022 are strengthening the economy, reducing health care costs, and dealing with COVID. Those are good places for the president to start. 

Inflation is causing the American public serious heartache. It is by far the most urgent issue facing the country and, at over 7 percent, it’s the highest in four decades. What’s more, 59 percent of Americans say the economy is getting worse. Against this backdrop, Biden must steer clear of talking up the record job gains, wage gains and GDP growth to the exclusion of concerns about the economy. Biden will get no points for sounding tone deaf or ignorant of the challenges Americans face. Emphasizing that he understands our economic recovery still has a way to go and laying out a realistic plan for getting inflation under control will resonate with people.

For the first time in nearly two years, it feels as though we have finally brought the COVID-19 pandemic under control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and liberal cities across the country have begun relaxing their masking restrictions and within a few weeks, it looks like no public schools will still be mandating masks. The quick turnaround is surely linked to a series of survey findings that showed 57 percent of voters in the 60 most competitive House districts agree with the statement: “Democrats in Congress have taken things too far in their pandemic response.”

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While Biden must make the case for Americans’ resilience, the miracle of vaccines, and that it’s time for a “return to normalcy,” he also must honor the nearly 1 million lives lost to COVID-19 thus far and be careful not to minimize the impact of the pandemic. This includes laying out his vision for what life will look like in an America where we have learned to live with the virus, as well as addressing a consistently important issue: access to health care. COVID created a myriad of health care challenges for Americans, and this remains a top priority. Democrats consistently have won elections by emphasizing their health care agendas and the president must detail his plan for supporting the electorate in meeting their health care challenges, and where we stand with Biden’s promise to create a public option. 

Two other topics that are important for the president to speak about are rising crime levels and immigration policy. Polls show that Americans are worried about spiking violent crime and gun reform policy, as well as the immigration crisis at the southern border. On each of these issues, Biden can demonstrate concern and explain his plan for addressing them. These are not just issues that are animating Republicans. Democrats are also looking to hear more from the president on his plan to add more funding to police departments.

It would be unreasonable to expect the president to completely eschew the opportunity to highlight his administration’s accomplishments in his address. The American Rescue Plan Act, the bipartisan infrastructure bill, the recent nomination of Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court, the highest number of appointments of federal judges since Ronald Reagan, and the progress of the Biden Plan for Black America — among other achievements during his first year in office — deserve mention. But they must be contextualized in the current climate, which is fraught, to say the least.

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I’m confident that Biden is the right man for this moment, just as he was as a candidate. Leading with his heart, his empathy, and clear proposals is always a recipe for success.

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.

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