War and hollow promises: Biden’s State of the Union address

President Joe Biden delivered his first State of the Union address last night, an hour-long speech mixing the war-mongering propaganda and empty promises of change that have become so typical of the Democratic Party establishment. Facing a potential wipe-out in the midterm election, Biden desperately tried to portray his time so far in office as a success story about the recovery of the country. 

His administration, having proven to be an utter disappointment in terms of domestic policy, has pivoted in recent weeks to focus on an ultra-aggressive approach towards Russia that provoked the current war in Ukraine and imperils the whole world. This was reflected in his hypocritical, distorted and truly uninspiring address. 

War in Ukraine not about ‘democracy

Biden cast the war in Ukraine as a struggle to defend democracy. “In the battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising to the moment,” Biden claimed, praising the “freedom-loving nations” that are confronting Russia. 

But democracy has absolutely nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy. One of the U.S. government’s closest allies, for instance, is Saudi Arabia — perhaps the least democratic country on the planet, where crucifixions are a legal form of punishment and one can be publicly beheaded for the crime of witchcraft. So is Israel, an apartheid regime reviled the world over for its abject denial of rights to Palestinians. The United States backs the dictatorship of Paul Kagame in Rwanda, who has caused so much suffering not only among his own people, but also for the people of neighboring Congo. In 2019, the United States backed a coup against the democratically-elected President of Bolivia, Evo Morales — much in the same way it backed a military coup in 2009 to remove elected Honduran President Manuel Zeleya. The list goes on and on, and extends back throughout U.S. history. 

The U.S. government wants to dominate all of Europe, and they view Russia as an obstacle to that domination. They want to be the unchallenged rulers of the whole world so that the banks and corporations they serve will reign supreme. This, and nothing else, motivates the actions of the U.S. ruling class on the world stage. That is why in the run up to the invasion they stubbornly refused to give assurances that NATO would stop expanding up to Russia’s borders or that Ukraine’s territory would not be the staging ground for advanced weapons that threaten Russia — which would have averted a war. The suffering of the people of Ukraine — and Russian workers bearing the brunt of the sanctions — means nothing to them as they pursue their imperial ambitions. 

Biden gave a completely false explanation of NATO’s purpose: “Throughout our history, we’ve learned this lesson when dictators do not pay a price for their aggression they cause more chaos … That’s why the NATO Alliance was created to secure peace and stability in Europe after World War II.” 

But NATO has always been an offensive alliance. Far from aiming for peace and stability in Europe, NATO was formed in 1949 to group together the main imperialist powers of the world in preparation for a war of annihilation against the Soviet Union. Instead of fighting each other for colonies and spheres of influence, like in World War I and World War II, NATO was designed to ensure that in a Third World War the major capitalist powers would fight together to destroy the socialist countries. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, NATO has also set its sights on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Libya, coordinating brutal wars that caused tremendous death and suffering.

Biden pretends domestic agenda hasn’t collapsed

The last time Biden addressed a joint session of Congress in April 2021, he laid out a progressive reform program that included substantial measures to improve the lives of working people. In his first official State of the Union address, Biden returned to many of the same themes. But this time, instead of an ambitious agenda, these appeals came off more like cruel jokes.

He reiterated his positions in favor of raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, cutting medical costs, combating climate change, providing monthly payments to parents, guaranteeing paid family and sick leave, raising taxes on corporations, and more. Many of these measures were in the “Build Back Better” social program expansion that Biden made a centerpiece of his domestic agenda. 

But this legislation was dealt a death blow by right-wing Democrats over two months ago. Politicians like Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, along with like-minded Democrats in the House of Representatives, refused to support the most important elements of this plan. Once it was hollowed out, Manchin delivered the finishing move on Fox News, of all places, by announcing that he would not vote for the legislation at all. Because the Senate is evenly-divided, every Democrat is needed to vote in favor of the measure for it to succeed. 

Biden expressed support for immigration reform, calling for action to: “Provide a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those on temporary status, farm workers, and essential workers.” He also touched on abortion rights, expressing his desire to “preserve a woman’s right to choose.” Biden reiterated his support for the Equality Act to federally prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people, and for the PRO Act to expand the rights of workers to form a union. But none of these measures have any chance of succeeding as long as the undemocratic “filibuster” rule is still in place in the Senate, which requires a 60-vote majority for most pieces of legislation to pass. The Democrats could get rid of the filibuster without needing any Republican support, but Manchin and Sinema are once again opposed to this.

If Biden was serious about reviving the program he laid out nearly a year ago, he would have used the State of the Union to slam Manchin, Sinema and their allies. Occupying the most prominent office in the world, Biden has a huge capacity to generate public pressure on these right-wing opponents of the working class. But as he has done consistently since taking office, Biden declined to fight. In fact, he even included a pathetic appeal to Manchin in his address, talking extensively about how much he cares about reducing the federal budget deficit — one of the fake reasons Manchin has given to explain his opposition to social and environmental programs.

On the issue of police terror, Biden has dropped the pretense of being sympathetic to the demands raised in the historic 2020 uprising against racism that brought tens of millions of people into the streets. Biden declared, “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police.” Both Democrats and Republicans rose in thunderous applause after Biden delivered this line, illustrating the essential role played by the police in defending the wealth and power of the elite. 

While Biden asserted, “the state of the union is strong … and we will be stronger a year from now than we are today,” the reality is workers are experiencing profound hardships that won’t simply go away with the passing of time. Fundamental changes are needed right now to guarantee a dignified standard of living for workers, ensure equal rights for all, and combat climate change and the scourge of war. Biden has no interest in bringing this about — it can only happen through determined struggle against the billionaires and multi-millionaires he represents.

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