Biden delivers a robust display
A strong State of the Union seals the President’s place as the Democratic front-runner for 2024
When Joe Biden delivered his State of the Union address on Tuesday, he was speaking to a divided legislature. While Democrats retain control of the Senate, the House now has a Republican majority. Mr Biden was also speaking at a time when the United States (US) is gearing up for the next presidential election. And while the Republican field is getting crowded, Mr Biden, despite apprehensions about his age (he will be 82 in 2024), appears determined to run again. He was also speaking at a time when America’s domestic economic challenges persist while it continues to face two key external threats — Russia and China.
Mr Biden was, rather skilfully, able to first balance his domestic imperatives. He reached out across the aisle and emphasised the need for bipartisanship, citing instances where Democrats and Republicans have been able to work together, including passing significant laws on infrastructure, gun reform, and semiconductor production. At the same time, he kept a sharp focus on his own party’s agenda and base by arguing for higher taxes on the wealthy, the need for lower costs of prescription drugs, and with rhetoric against big pharma, big oil, and big tech. But the crowning moment came when he firmly defended social security and Medicare, portraying Republicans as opposed to these safety net measures. When Republicans in the Congress objected to the portrayal, Mr Biden, in a sign that he remains politically sharp, boxed the GOP into a corner by suggesting that if there was no opposition, they should all agree that there will be no roll back of these programmes.
The President also sent out a message to America’s adversaries, emphasising that the US will stand with Ukraine “as long as it takes” and telling China that it will do all it takes to protect its sovereignty and compete effectively. Mr Biden was right that the past few years have shown the weaknesses of autocracies; he also highlighted the US efforts to invest in its own military, future industries, innovation, and alliances to counter the China threat. And by viewing the Atlantic and Pacific theatres as an integrated space, Mr Biden sent a political signal that the US will do more to get its European and Asian partners to work together. For India, a more domestically stable US with clarity about the threat posed by China is good news. Mr Biden has, in his five-decade-long political career, surprised critics more than once — Tuesday marked another such instance as he sealed his place as the Democratic presidential nominee front-runner for 2024.