Joe Biden’s speechwriters had a difficult task tonight: How can the near-total failure of an administration to deliver on what it had promised be packaged as a rousing success story? Unsurprisingly, the monologue they had Biden stumble through was filled with distortions and omissions.
Biden claimed that, “My economic plan is about investing in places and people that have been forgotten.” But if he had any appreciation for just how profound the hardships working people face are, the course of action he would have taken these last two years in office would have been dramatically different.
The so-called accomplishments that Biden touted tonight are in fact expressions of his reflex to compromise, back down and give up in the face of the right wing — if they are not already on the same side to begin with. Take the infrastructure bill for example. This piece of legislation does allocate funding for badly-needed projects that will create a substantial number of jobs. However, when it was first being pushed through Congress, these infrastructure measures — which had broad support in Congress even among many Republicans — were tied with the passage of a dramatic expansion of social programs that would tackle inequality and poverty. Instead of forcing the right wingers to choose between sinking the infrastructure spending they wanted or accepting the progressive measures they didn’t, Biden simply surrendered to their demands and separated the two proposals.
As a consequence, the “Build Back Better” legislation that would have brought about the biggest expansion of social programs in a generation crashed and burned. Guaranteed parental leave was not passed. Community college did not become free, and there were no subsidies instituted to cover working parents’ childcare expenses. The child tax credit payments expired. Repairs on public housing units remain hopelessly backlogged. An ambitious plan to transform the country’s electrical grid with hundreds of billions of dollars in investment in renewable energy was shelved. New roads and bridges, as important as they are, cannot cover up a failure this enormous.
A similar scenario played out on the health care front. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives on Biden’s watch, the urgent need for universal health care had never been clearer. But rather than take on the greed of the insurance companies and big pharma, Biden contented himself with new regulations concerning the extent to which these corporations can price gouge medicine that people’s lives depend on. And the prescription drug price reduction that Biden harped on with such enthusiasm tonight is not all that impressive. Because of last year’s “Inflation Reduction Act,” starting in 2026, Medicare will be able to negotiate with pharmaceutical corporations over the price of 10 and then eventually 20 drugs.
And for this incursion on their right to profit however they see fit, Biden is giving plenty of consolation prizes to the health care capitalists. By officially ending the national emergency declared over COVID in May, Biden is setting up a situation where many could lose access to free at-home tests, vaccines and treatments. Pfizer already announced a proposed price of $110 to $130 per vaccine dose! And Biden is putting one of their own — Jeff Zients — in charge of the day-to-day operations of the White House. Zients, who will soon take over as Biden’s Chief of Staff, grew rich by running two consulting firms paid to advise health-related companies on how to squeeze even greater profits out of the sick and injured.
Since the last time Biden delivered a State of the Union address, the Supreme Court delivered a historic blow to women’s equality and eliminated the right to abortion at the federal level. While Biden was clearly eager to score political points tonight by highlighting how out of step the rightwing’s views on the issue are with most of the country, he was completely passive when it was time to act.
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the most important response would have been to take the matter out of the court’s hands and enact federal legislation guaranteeing the right to abortion. If they were willing to end the undemocratic “filibuster” rule, Democrats could have passed such a bill through Congress without needing a single Republican vote. And there had been many other opportunities in the past for the Democrats to do so when they had full control of the federal government. Biden was in Congress this entire time, taking office in the Senate the same year as the 1973 Roe decision.
Short of this, Biden could have taken bold executive action in response to the Supreme Court’s outrageous Dobbs decision. This includes setting up abortion clinics on federal lands in states that have enacted bans, or declaring a public health emergency that would bypass the anti-worker Hyde Amendment and allow Medicaid funds to cover the cost of abortions. Instead, Biden and the rest of the Democrats were content to use abortion rights as a rhetorical tool to boost turnout in the midterm election.
Some of the most outrageous lies in Biden’s address related to international issues. Biden portrayed his administration’s proxy war strategy in Ukraine as “the defense of democracy.” But rather than giving $100 billion of taxpayer money to weapons manufacturers to bring the world closer to nuclear war, this money should be used to address the inflation crisis and provide relief for workers grappling with the spiraling cost of living.
Biden included in his speech a considerable dose of fear mongering directed at China as well. Rather than seeking peace and cooperation between the two main world powers, Biden is barreling head-first into a new Cold War that threatens the world with disaster. All the talk from elite politicians about the supposed danger posed by China is an excuse to justify the trillion-dollar-a-year war budget — money diverted from the real threats people are facing like hunger, rising rents and collapsing schools.
For working people, Biden’s presidency has been a complete failure. The fact that the Republicans are even worse, or the meager scraps of reform his administration threw from the table, should not distract anyone from this fundamental truth.