The state of the Union according to Joe Biden

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

Last week, President Joe Biden delivered his state of the union address to the nation, to a divided congress, where Republicans control the House and Democrats control the Senate.  Biden, started by acknowledging that Covid had shut down the country for two years but that since he took office the country, with the help of congress and the American people, was recovering and that the country had created 12 million new jobs, more jobs than any president had created in four years.

Claiming that the country is often told that republicans and democrats can’t work together, he boasted that since he took office both parties have come together to defend a stronger and safer Europe, passed an infrastructure law, and that he had signed over 300 bipartisan pieces of legislation since becoming president. Saying “Fighting for the sake of fighting, power for the sake of power, conflict for the sake of conflict, gets us nowhere.”  He announced that his vision for the country was to restore the soul of the nation, and rebuild the middle class.

Biden then admitted that for a long time, past administrations had witnessed the hollowing out of the middle class, because too many good manufacturing jobs had moved overseas, and many factories had closed.  But that his policies had turned things around, creating a record 800,000 good paying manufacturing jobs, the fastest growth in 40 years, resulting in unemployment at a 50-year low at 3.4 percent, and near record unemployment for Black and Hispanic workers.

He acknowledged that inflation was a global problem because the pandemic disrupted supply chains, and the war in Ukraine had disrupted energy and food supplies, but that America was better positioned than any country on earth. Bemoaning America’s leadership loss in the chip manufacturing industry, he insisted that in the future the supply chain for America will begin in America.  And announced that America plans to regain leadership in infrastructure, by introducing new standards requiring all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America.  

Biden won the night when he challenged Republican hardliners about their proposals to cut Social Security and Medicare, the nation’s two major safety net programs.  Although workers’ pay a portion of their paychecks in taxes to Social Security (SS) and Medicare, and more than 69 million Americans are enrolled in each program, and 90 percent of Americans support these programs, Republican hardliners want to eliminate them, because they believe the programs are “socialists” programs.  Hardliners have proposed to raise the retirement age to 70, sunsetting all federal legislation after five years, forcing Congress to renew SS and Medicare every 5 years, and linking cuts to the programs in attempts to raise the amount of money the federal government is allowed to borrow, the debt ceiling. 

Remember, breaching the debt limit would force a government default, possibly destabilizing global markets; and hurling the country into a deep recession.  Biden’s revelation of their intent to cut these programs, elicited heckling, including calling him a liar, he turned the tables and forced them to accept the programs, on national television, saying “Stand up and show them we will not cut Social Security. We will not cut Medicare.”  And they all stood up.

Biden stressed that his agenda would build an economy from the bottom up and middle out, and help blue collar workers to get high paying jobs that will not require a college degree.  He made a forceful call for police accountability, and emphasized that threats to democracy remained, both domestically and abroad.

Many media “pundits” were claiming that Biden’s age was a detriment to the party’s future, but, his performance that night shows that he is still viable, especially since the opposition is extremely weak, and has absolutely no policies to move the country forward.  Worst, their impetuous reactions on a nationally and internationally broadcasted event, is a disgrace to the nation, and reveals that America is probably not fit to be leader of the Western world.

Realistically, because Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate and Republicans narrowly control the house, there is little chance that his ideas will go anywhere.  Importantly, Republicans control the governorship and legislature in 22 states, and Democrats in 17 states, this means that these governors will pursue agendas of their choosing, and will be pushing in opposite directions.  Instead of talking bipartisanship, he should have talked directly to Americans and tell them that he was going to secure SS and Medicare, but repeal the Trump tax cut, that only benefit the super wealthy and global corporations, and costs over a trillion dollars, in order to deal with the “debt ceiling.”  

Republicans are not interested in bipartisanship; they know what they want and are determined to get it.  Importantly, they don’t want any social safety net, or peace movements, regulations on controlling Wall Street, renewable energy, or the right to vote.  Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) while campaigning in 2010, said, “It will be my objective to phase out Social Security, to pull it out by the roots and get rid of it. 

While President Biden, Republicans and Democrats are unanimous in their agreement on the war in Ukraine, overthrowing democratically elected governments in the Caribbean, Latin America and Africa, but cannot agree on anything in America, I urge them to listen to António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.  His top priority was the war in Ukraine, he expressed that the prospects for peace was diminishing and chances of escalation and bloodshed growing, and referenced other threats to peace, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Afghanistan, Myanmar, the Sahel and Haiti.  He criticized the lack of strategic vision, and near term thinking as immoral.  Blaming the economic and financial system for the increase in poverty and hunger, and the debt burden of developing countries, he concluded that without fundamental reforms, the richest countries and individuals will continue to pile up wealth, leaving crumbs for the communities and countries of the global south. 

Finally, someone with status, in the international community, has spoken the truth to his bosses, the neoliberal Western powers, let’s hope they listen.

(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)