SOTU Random Thoughts

I just received a phone call from my 101 year-old mother.  “Did you see the president last night?”  I had just spent two days with her during which she once again reminded me of my obligation to her.  “If Trump wins and you decide to leave the country, you know you have to take me with you.”  I joked, “That’s why I’m doing everything I can to make sure Biden wins.” This morning, I wondered if someone had switched out her Ambien for some “happy pill.”  So goes my mother, so goes America.

After several weeks of the most depressing correspondence and phone calls with family, friends and colleagues, I feel no need this morning to talk anyone off the ledge.  Joe Biden did that for all of us last night.  Instead, with the extensive coverage of the State of the Union address, I decided to look for those things that were not mentioned.  Here are my six takeaways to add to the general euphoria.


The one thing Mom did not like about the broadcast was the number of times they showed Marjorie Taylor Greene.  She wondered why they promote her.  This was the one “off the ledge” moment in our discussion.  I told her I thought they did not show her or the other MAGA lemmings enough.  Biden was making contrasts in policy, but he also talked about decency and playing by the rules.  I want MTG to be the face of Donald Trump’s MAGA party.  She is uncivil, she is dishonest and she does not play by the rules including House rules which forbid partisan attire.  More importantly, she will remind voters that it is MTG and her MAGA colleagues who have blocked legislation that deals with the border, national security, codifying Roe v. Wade and inflation.  That she would rather pursue impeachments without evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors for political theater than do the people’s business.  She is a walking billboard why the MAGA party has proved it cannot govern and why we must return the majority and speakership to the Democrats.


Photos: Republicans Wear Pins Honoring Laken Riley at Joe Biden's State of the UnionLast week, Representative Rashida Tlaib encouraged Michigan voters to send Joe Biden a message on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  The punditry was awash with the implications for the November election if Muslin-Americans and Palestinian sympathizers stayed home.  Did Joe Biden or Michigan Governor Gretchen Witmer tell those voters, “We don’t need you,” a la Trump’s response to Haley supporters or Kari Lake’s 2022 rejection of McCain Republicans.  Many Democrats, knowing that a Biden win in Michigan was a foregone conclusion, accepted those voters’ chose as an appropriate opportunity to signal their concern for family and friends living in the war zone.  Last night she and other members of the Democratic conference held up signs that said  “Lasting Ceasefire Now” and “Stop Sending Bombs.”  Some may have been offended, but what better place than Congress to generate an actual policy debate.  Compare that to Congressman Troy Nehls (R-TX) who wore a tee-shirt under his jacket with the Trump mug shot and the words, “Never Surrender!”

Where was Congresswoman Tlaib following Biden’s address?  Did she walk out of the chamber like so many disgruntled (and hopefully embarrassed) members on the other side of the aisle?  No, as this picture shows, she is standing behind the president (literally).  She had to know there would be video and images of her with Biden.  The message.  We may still be unhappy, but this is someone who at least is trying to avoid a humanitarian crisis as evidenced by his announcement of the makeshift port to speed delivery of food and other necessities to Palestinian civilians.  On a night when Biden made the election about clear choices, I have no doubt Tlaib, given the alternative of a second Trump administration, will encourage her constituents to make the right choice.  (For the record, Representative Ilhan Omar encouraged a similar protest in the Minnesota primary though she endorsed Biden the day after he officially announced he was running for reelection.)


The overnight TV ratings for last night’s State of the Union are not yet available, but I predict the total may top Biden’s two previous addresses.  In 2022, over 38 million viewers tuned in.  Last year that number declined to 27.3 million.  The forthcoming number to watch is the Fox News viewership.  For weeks, right wing media promised their viewers a NASCAR race with Joe Biden driving a dilapidated late model vehicle which would be involved in multiple car wrecks.  Hopefully, the promotion worked. The only car wrecks were those occasions when Speaker Mike Johnson had to decide if stopping fentanyl at the board was worth a standing ovation (he chose NO) or every time Republican senators and representatives had their heads bowed in shame when Biden reminded them they were on the wrong side of virtually every issue and history.


This morning the Make America Great Again super PAC ran an ad titled “Jugular” on MSNBC, CNN, Fox NEWS and Newsmax.  It shows the president stumbling on the stairs up to Air Force One, verbal gaffes and asks the question, “Can Joe Biden survive until 2029?”  That might have played well a month ago, but not the morning after the State of the Union which produced the following headlines.

~Fiery Biden takes on GOP, makes case for second term (Washington Post)
~A Forceful Biden Takes On Trump and His Own Doubters (New York Times)
~State of the Union Shows There’s Life in the Old Boy Yet (Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal)
~Biden Roars on Big Night, Faces Down Critics (Drudge Report)
~He Nailed It (GOP Strategist Sarah Longwell/CNN)

Noonan’s op-ed was not just a kudos on Biden’s performance.  It was a change of heart.  On February 22, she wrote:

A good thing for the president: If he does a perfectly adequate job, the press will be inclined to call it brilliant. Expectations are low. There’s a politesse about State of the Union coverage, nobody wants to pounce. The media have been slapped around recently for taking notice of Mr. Biden’s age after three years of ignoring it.

Bad news: People won’t be impressed if anchors call it brilliant, because our media world is all broken up in pieces and anchors speak to mere shards. And most Americans aren’t watching. Viewership declines each year.

This morning she revised her assessment.

The great question the past month was about his persona. Would he walk in shakily? When he was done, would we be using words like old, frail, incapable, embarrassing? We won’t. People will say that guy has a lot of fight in him. He was wide awake, seemed to be relishing the moment, did not seem to tire much, and in fact improved as the speech moved along.

There are 10 to 13 percent undecided voters if the polls are accurate.  As you know, I have also argued Trump’s 45 percent is a ceiling.  Biden’s 43 percent is a floor.  Prior to last night’s speech, a March 6 Emerson poll now has Biden at +2.  The March 3 Morning Consult survey now has Biden +1.  Even in those polls where Biden still trails, most of which were completed before the end of February, the contest in now within the margin of error. 

Historically, an incumbent running for a second term gets a bump from their election year SOTU address.  Bill Clinton did in 1996 as did Barack Obama in 2012.  There was a lot of Democratic handwringing back then as the polls showed both behind to their opponents.  In the post-SOTU polls, the actual numbers are noise.  The trends are the signal.


House Speaker Mike Johnson gave his team a pep talk at a closed-door meeting of the GOP conference the day before the SOTU.  He told his colleagues:

Decorum is the order of the day.  We don’t need to be shrill, you know, we got to avoid that. We need to base things upon policy, upon facts, upon reality of situations. Let them do the gaslighting, let them do the blaming.

How did that work out, Mikey?  Even when he signaled for rowdy GOP members to tamp it down, they did not respond.  If Johnson’s world view is what he says it is, I guess it was God’s plan for there to be such an ineffective speaker of the house to remind us what true leadership looks like.


I wonder how many people stayed tune to watch Biden try to leave the House chamber.  Even when Speaker Johnson ordered the lights dimmed, the celebration did not end.  Joe Scarborough compared it to football players lingering in the locker room after a Super Bowl victory.  You don’t want to lose that great feeling.  There was one moment, however, where I found myself admiring Joe Biden for his physical ability.

An African-American, female representative wanted to take a selfie with the president.  She was so nervous her hand was shaking.  Biden took her hand and steadied the cell phone.  I suffer from a familial tremor.  When I saw that I thought, “Hell, I’m seven years younger and I couldn’t do that.”  And then I remembered, that was the perfect metaphor for “the steady hand at the helm” he promised in 2020 and will again this election cycle.

For what it’s worth.



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