Capitalizing on Positive Momentum

Amanda Maltin, Contributing Writer

On Tuesday, March 1, President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address in front of a joint session of Congress.  Biden went into the speech as a widely unpopular president; in fact, he had the second-lowest approval rating of a first-year president since measurement began in the mid-20th century (with the exception of Donald Trump).  Despite this, Biden’s speech fared pretty well with the American public.  In the wake of domestic economic turbulence and crisis in Ukraine, Biden touched on the issues that matter to voters the most.  He also called for unity and bipartisanship, terms that are refreshing to voters after a half-decade of heated political tumult. 

Biden touched on the major challenges the United States is currently facing as we appear to reach the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, including inflation, unemployment, poor mental health and issues related to the disrupted schooling of children.  Referencing his childhood, President Biden lamented “I remember when my Dad had to leave our home in Scranton, Pennsylvania to find work. I grew up in a family where if the price of food went up, you felt it.” This personal experience, Biden claimed, incentivizes him to continue to reach across party lines and work with lawmakers to pass legislation designed to help the average American family.  He also used this moment as an opportunity to critique the policies of the previous administration, saying that his policies have helped the middle class during this time,  “unlike the two trillion dollar tax cut passed by the previous administration that benefitted the top 1 percent of Americans”.

The president spent the majority of his speech discussing issues that he knew would fare well with Americans regardless of their political affiliation. His tone shift regarding the COVID-19 pandemic was particularly striking, as he discussed widespread elimination of restrictions like masking and social distancing. He also briefly discussed raising taxes on wealthy Americans and corporations.

Lastly, he called for retaliation against the Russian government’s invasion of Ukraine. This directly contrasted the previous administration’s approach, which promoted political tribalism. These policy prescriptions are widely popular among the middle class. Although Biden was pretty vague about the steps to set these plans in motion, simply mentioning these issues helped to unify the American public.

Biden reminded his audience that “tonight, we meet as Democrats, Republicans and Independents. But most importantly as Americans.” By refusing to alienate either party, Biden was able to effectively communicate with a country that is desperate for normalcy.  

Overall, Biden’s first State of the Union was a success. According to a Gallup poll, 67 percent of listeners who tuned into Biden’s speech said his words made them feel optimistic about the state of affairs. But, one speech is not enough to pull Biden’s ratings up forever.  Biden will need to capitalize on this positive momentum if the Democrats want to have favorable outcomes in the upcoming midterms and if Biden wants to pursue a second term. 

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