Pity the creative writing team at the White House franticly preparing President Biden’s State of the Union address. With Europe at war, inflation soaring, crime rampant, illegal immigration at historic levels and parents irate over their kids’ education, how can they portray Biden’s presidency as a success?
Especially in light of a new Harvard-Harris poll showing that 62 percent of Americans think Russian President Vladimir Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if Donald Trump were still president. A poll, moreover, that shows only 38 percent of respondents approve of Biden’s job performance.
Biden will begin with the tragic events in Ukraine. Here is what he’ll say:
1) Through strenuous diplomacy, he has brought NATO together as never before;
2) Because he has led the European Union (EU) in imposing severe sanctions, Putin has agreed to negotiations;
3) The United States will continue its aggressive pursuit of carbon neutrality and renewable fuels, thus reducing our dependence on Russian oil.
4) Oh, and he’s sorry gasoline prices are so high, but it’s all Putin’s fault.
Here is the reality:
1) President Trump was right to push NATO to step up its defense spending. Only in response to naked Russian aggression has the worst freeloader – Germany – finally agreed to increase its budget;
2) Trump was also right to sanction the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in 2019, calling the project a “security risk” for Western Europe. Biden was wrong to greenlight the line last year;
3) Trump’s push for energy independence helped keep oil prices down and Putin’s budget constrained. Biden’s wrong-headed policies have had the opposite effect;
4) Biden’s imposition of the toughest sanctions, on Putin himself, followed the lead of the UK. His sanctions on Nord Stream 2, similarly, followed Germany’s cancellation of the pipeline’s certification. Biden has been a follower, not a leader.
The president will also address the state of our economy:
1) Biden will rightly note that last week’s unemployment claims are at a 52-year low;
2) Biden will report that the U.S. grew at 5.7 percent during his first year in office, the fastest rate of GDP expansion since 1984;
3) He will proudly note that he “created” 6.7 million new jobs last year, a record.
Here is how Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, who will deliver the GOP response, should respond:
1) Incomes, after taxes and adjusted for inflation, have dropped for six straight months, declining to the lowest level since March 2020;
2) The surge in economic and job growth in 2021 as the U.S. recovered from the COVID-19-inspired shutdowns was fueled by a reopening of businesses; that organic progress was put on steroids by massive and reckless federal spending — more than was spent waging World War II. Consequently, we now have the highest inflation in 40 years;
3) According to a Goldman Sachs study, there are an estimated 4.6 million jobs going unfilled as far too many able-bodied Americans remain on the sidelines, even as the most generous of the pandemic-inspired benefits programs have ended. Rent moratoriums, forgiveness of student loans, lax oversight of child welfare programs and other benefits have allowed people to stay home, fueling rising wages and higher inflation. The labor participation rate is still 1.2 percentage points below pre-pandemic levels;
4) Consumers have been spending down savings; the savings rate in January fell to 6.4 percent, the lowest since December 2013. That does not augur well for growth ahead.
Reynolds should also report this: Consumer sentiment, even with a record-tight jobs market, is in the gutter. The University of Michigan’s latest survey found sentiment at the lowest level in a decade. People should wonder, how can Americans have been more optimistic during the Trump years, even as COVID crushed the economy and resulted in so many tragic deaths, than they are today?
Biden will also report positive news on the pandemic:
1) He will note that the number of cases is declining rapidly and that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidance dropping mask mandates for some 70 percent of the nation;
2) He could report that new treatments and therapies are on their way;
3) He may drop all federal mandates.
The GOP responder must point out that:
1) The incomprehensible reality is that more people died from COVID under President Biden’s watch than under President Trump’s, even though Biden had, from day one, access to life-saving vaccines;
2) Democrats, including Biden, threw shade on “Trump’s vaccine” during the 2020 campaign in order to undermine what was clearly a great achievement of the Trump White House. That likely discouraged many from taking the shot and politicized the entire enterprise;
3) Democrats and their media allies also spurned treatments that have been shown to save lives. How many died because they wanted to discredit Trump’s endorsement of novel approaches and, unforgivably, shut down discussion of such treatments? We will never know, but closing off debate about how to treat a new and dangerous virus is unconscionable.
Biden will also crow that “America is back,” citing our reentry into the Paris Agreement and ongoing efforts to revive the Iran nuclear deal. Optimism about the efficacy of such multinational arrangements is founded on the same blind faith that assumes Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin respect the liberal world order. They do not, as we are witnessing in Ukraine.
As the president prepares to address the country, barriers are going uparound the Capitol. Like Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Biden is afraid of the truckers heading to D.C. to protest vaccine mandates. The same truckers, as it happens, whose dues helped fund Biden’s presidential campaign and whom the press is now denouncing as rightwing extremists. This is not a good look.
The world is in awe of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has bravely stood up to Putin and inspired his nation. Tonight’s State of the Union address will show: Joe Biden is no Volodymyr Zelensky.
Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.