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DC Edit | Message in Biden's scrappy speech, for US and the rest


Published on: February 10, 2023 | Updated on: February 10, 2023

US President Joe Biden. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, Pool)

Energetic, confident and patient in the face of provocation, US President Joe Biden injected humour, too, into his second "State of The Union" address even as he was heckled so much as to fully reflect the partisan animosity marking the times we live in. But, almost throughout his address, dominated by the theme – "Let’s finish the job" – he was speaking as the President of the United States and not quite the leader of the free world that he is perceived to be.

Just days after having taken the bolder course in shooting down a Chinese balloon from its insidious atmospheric perch in espionage, Mr Biden all but relegated the event to the fringes of his speech that focused on America, but mentioned China’s leader Xi Jinping at least seven times when stressing that the US was seeking competition, not conflict, and was willing to cooperate too, in chosen areas if that would be helpful to the world.

Even so, his action in the wake of a threat to sovereignty came as reassurance that he would dare to act against a bully though his opponents on his own soil thought he did too little too late. But that is the story of a polarised society which Mr Biden aims to head once again as he made his intentions clear of seeking re-election, regardless of his age – he is 80 now- in 2024.

Given that the world is a dangerous place, suffused over with tensions, and any US President would have to be at the top of his game to be convincing to his own constituency, it stood to reason that Mr Biden would stress his victories – a $550 bn infrastructure spend authorised in a bipartisan Bill, $280 bn in high tech manufacturing like microprocessor chips and $400 mn on green energy technologies – in his two years in office after having staved off a second term of Donald Trump.

Mr Biden’s pitch, focused on the economy, was premised on the US being on a roll regarding jobs and record low unemployment figures for a long while and there being openings for white non-graduate blue collar workforce too, a community traditionally opposed to the Democrats and which he tried to address as a potential Presidential candidate more than as US President.

It is ironical then that despite those major achievements after winning his job as President in the middle of the draining Covid pandemic and navigating the crisis capably enough, Mr Biden’s ratings are sinking and most of the Republicans and independents and even a fifth of the Democrats see him as having achieved little in his two years. It cannot be comforting to the rulers that much of that attitude could be shaped by anti-establishment views, further sustained by attacks on democratic institutions and the divisiveness engendered by the Trump years in the White House.

Mr Biden’s volleys against the Republicans and the threat they could pose to Medicare and Social Security constituted the most unpopular parts of his address, at least with his opponents. That brings into question the very usefulness of these speeches, which cannot but be intensely political. The fact is they are not to be dismissed as having to do only with American politics. India, as a staunch enough ally of the US, will find much that resonates even in a country separated by a few oceans.