What has President Joe Biden delivered since taking office? A hell of a lot more than most Americans had any idea about until the president addressed the country Tuesday at his State of the Union speech.
During a robust 70-minute speech, a president not exactly known for his oratory skills, took Americans on a drive through an impressive array of his accomplishments, invited them to hope for more good works, and goaded Republicans into applauding his red line in the sand: No cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
Was the speech too long? Perhaps. Was it effective? Hell yeah.
You want progress? President Biden has you covered: Generating 12 million jobs in two years—more than "any president has created in four"; hitting a 50-year unemployment low; signing more than 300 bipartisan laws; adding 800,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs—"the fastest growth in 40 years"; securing a record 10 million applications to start new businesses.
Sure, "inflation has been a global problem," Biden admitted, due to the pandemic and Russia President Vladimir Putin's war on Ukraine.
But in case you missed it, America, "we’re better positioned than any country on Earth."
Even to Americans who have half paid attention to politics over the past couple years, hearing the Biden administration's string of accomplishments listed back-to-back felt noteworthy.
"And folks, we're just getting started," Biden said repeatedly throughout the speech as he offered ways to build on the momentum.
For instance, now that Medicare recipients can't be charged more than $35 a month for insulin, Biden suggested, "let’s cap the cost of insulin at $35 a month for every American who needs it.”
Now that billion-dollar companies have to pay a 15% minimum tax, let's also pass a billionaire minimum tax, "because no billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a school teacher or a firefighter,” Biden explained.
And after passing the most sweeping gun safety law in decades, Biden urged, "Ban assault weapons now! Ban them now!"
President Biden’s message was unmistakable—he has done big things that will translate into a more stable, prosperous existence for millions of middle-class and blue-collar workers. It's morning in America, folks, Biden style. Now, "let's finish the job"—a phrase the president used to punctuate his points at least a dozen times throughout the speech.
But as clear as Biden’s message was, the more remarkable part of the speech was his ability to use the bully pulpit in real time as a way of corralling Republicans into reasonable positions.
On the GOP's longstanding, oft-repeated desire to cut Social Security and Medicare, Biden put House Republicans directly on the spot during the most-watched political event of the year.
"Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage unless I agree to their economic plans. All of you at home should know what their plans are," Biden explained, referring to House Republicans' intent to reject a debt-ceiling increase unless Democrats agree to commensurate cuts social safety net programs.
"Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset," Biden continued, as GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy began vehemently shaking his head in the background and Republicans erupted in dissent.
Instead of retreating, Biden leaned forward on the dais. "Anybody who doubts it, contact my office, I'll give you a copy of the proposal," he said, relishing their protestations.
Though Biden declined to name names, he was likely talking about GOP Sen. Rick Scott's 11-point plan to "Rescue America," which included a proposal to vote on sunsetting both programs.
As the GOP jeers subsided, Biden welcomed the turnabout. "I enjoy conversion," he quipped, then added, "We're not going to be moved in to being threatened to default on the debt if we don't respond."
Finally, Biden closed the deal on the fly.
"Folks, as we all apparently agree, Social Security and Medicare is off the books, now—they're not going to be cut?" he said, to a standing ovation of cheers from the floor.
Giving the high sign, Biden declared, "Alright, we've got unanimity."
It was nothing short of remarkable—a contentious negotiation, on the House floor, live, in front of millions of Americans, in which a president backed his partisan detractors into a corner, unilaterally disarmed them, and secured their on-record commitment to backing his stated position.
“So tonight, let’s all agree — and we apparently are — let’s stand up for seniors,” Biden confirmed.
It was a masterful, truly consequential moment—a thing of beauty, if you will. Seniors will absolutely be contacting their GOP congressional members to make certain no one is contemplating making cuts to their primary source of income. That will in turn put pressure on the Republican caucus and almost certainly rob the GOP arsonists of their leverage point in the debt ceiling battle with the White House.
Moments like that made Biden's speech enjoyably entertaining despite its voluminous sweep. It also took the wind out of any nagging questions about the president's vigor, as he undeniably bested the entire GOP caucus in front of a national audience.
In the meantime, MAGA maniacs like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia were reduced to hurling insults at Biden from the cheap seats.
Ultimately, Biden grew greater in stature Tuesday by virtue of his rivals' petty smallness. It was a good night for Democrats and the White House.
Sarah Longwell is a longtime Republican strategist and prominent never-Trumper. Her podcast, The Focus Group, is a peek at the thousands of hours of focus groups she has conducted all across the country. Sarah comes on to give her thoughts about the state of the current Republican Party and why its future remains bleak.