Nicole DeJacimo ’22
COVID-19. Russia’s invasion. The Supreme Court. Inflation. Mass resignations. Student debt. Global warming. The United State’s role in the world. Recently, these are at the forefront of our thoughts at one time or another, and for some, every day. This week, President Biden will likely address all of those and more at the 2022 State of the Union (SOTU).
The State of the Union is an annual address the President makes to Congress and the world. This year, on March 2, President Biden will follow in this tradition. In the past, presidents have spoken of the economy, health care, immigration, foreign policy, education, and any current crisis. Their speechwriters weave in poetic prose to engage even the least politically savvy constituents to woo them into supporting the president’s calls to action.
According to a Pew Research poll from January 2022, 71% of Americans believe that “strengthening the economy” should be this administration’s top priority. Inflation has hit a 40-year high, increasing the costs of food and gas, among other necessities. The pandemic and related relief programs have exacerbated inflation and the sanctions President Biden imposed on Russia threaten to worsen the situation. Other major issues include, in order of most support to least, “reducing health care costs” (61%), “dealing with coronavirus outbreak” (60%), “improving education” (58%), and “securing social security” (57%). It is still too early to determine American support for Ukraine, but a shift in prioritizing Ukraine aid is likely.
Rarely do SOTUs leave a lasting impression, but when they do, they affect foreign policy. Consider President Monroe’s speech that led to the Monroe Doctrine, and President G.W. Bush’s remarks about the “Axis of Evil” after the September 11 attacks. Right now, President Biden is faced with the opportunity to significantly impact the American perspective of Russia, an opportunity to bring together bipartisan forces against Russia’s blatant disregard for international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty. If done well, his speech has the potential to strengthen NATO’s global standing, avoid World War Three, and reaffirm the United State’s place as a global superpower, something that was often questioned during President Trump’s administration. If Biden can portray himself as the leader with power and poise, he may just turn the tides.
With midterm elections around the corner and the 2024 presidential election rapidly approaching, there is no doubt that Biden will do what he can to tip the polls back in his favor. In nearly every midterm election, the sitting president’s party has lost congressional seats. Thus, if Biden wants to get his legislation passed, he, and his speechwriters, need to speak to both Democrats and Republicans, and emphasize the urgency of the situation. If he can sway public opinion enough, the President just may be able to swing enough votes, but his chances are slim. With a razor-thin Senate majority and a lack of cooperation between Democratic factions, President Biden will need all the unity he can get, especially in light of his Supreme Court nominee. Judge Katanji Brown Jackson is the first Black woman to be a SCOTUS nominee, and Biden will garner support for her in the Senate.
Viewers should also look forward to all of the viral-worthy soundbites and snapshots that are guaranteed during a State of the Union. Due to continuing COVID-19 precautions, President Biden did not invite any honorable guests, though, all Congressional members are expected to be in attendance. All must wear an N-95 mask, but do not be surprised if Sen Rand Paul (R-KY) or Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA-14) bare their faces. In another form of symbolic protest, fashion decisions by particular members receive great media attention. In 2017, the Democratic women of Congress organized the first “white-out” for SOTU, dressing in all-white outfits in honor of the suffragette movement. They likely could continue the tradition— in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, look out for light blue and yellow combinations to represent Ukraine’s flag and show solidarity for the people of Ukraine.
All in all, the State of the Union is a show. The President must hold himself to Grammy Award standards to persuade politicians and the public that he is worthy of his position and can handle the whirlpool of domestic and international crises. How the President decides to tackle these issues will strongly influence the trajectory of his presidency and our country.