I’ve been glued to the TV for the State of the Union address for as far back as Ronald Reagan’s speeches. When I was on the Hill, I was lucky enough to watch George H.W. Bush deliver one. I always tune in early to watch the entrance of the U.S. Senate, diplomatic corps, the Supreme Court, then the president’s Cabinet, and I still get a rush when the House Sergeant-at-Arms says, “Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States.”
Some members of Congress grab their seat along the aisle hours before the big event so that they can position themselves to be on TV while they lunge at grabbing the president’s hand. New York Congressman Eliot Engel was famous for this. It was his way to show his constituents that he “knew” the president.
I also enjoy watching all the camaraderie, or lack thereof. Speaker Jim Wright and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush were Texans, so they seemed to get along fine. I often wondered what Speaker Nancy Pelosi made of sitting next to Vice President Dick Cheney. There was no love lost between those two, but I think his daughter Liz’s level-headedness might have softened any acrimony.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Kevin McCarthy seemed to be getting along. They had several animated, friendly discussions before President Joe Biden arrived. They’ve got to stand up there for about half an hour, so it behooves them to be nice to each other.
Last night, my eyes flew open wide when I saw the picture of decorum, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, chatting with the picture of deceit, George Santos (Not going to dignify this liar by putting a title in front of his name.) My first reaction was that Romney was playing the forgiving Mormon and bit his tongue and lip and ground his teeth by being cordial to Santos.
That’s not what happened. Apparently, Romney rightly chastised Santos, saying, “You don’t belong here,” and scolding him for standing along the aisle, ala Engel, to shake hands with all the dignitaries and the president. Like a child, Santos lashed out on Twitter telling Romney that he would “NEVER” be president. Doesn’t Santos see the irony in that his days in the House are coming to an end?
Then came those words announcing President Biden, and little did we know what we were in for and how special the night would be for him and for all of us.
Before he even began his speech, he acknowledged McCarthy as the new speaker, and with a twinkle in his eye, Biden said that he didn’t want to ruin McCarthy’s reputation by saying that he was looking forward to working with him. Biden also acknowledged Sen. Mitch McConnell for being the longest -serving party leader in Senate history. “Where is Mitch?” Biden bellowed as if he was looking into the crowd for an old friend.
He also pointed out Hakeem Jeffries as the first Black party leader in the House and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and both, I was happy to see, received standing ovations across the room.
Then Biden started out on the road of delivering a magnificent speech. One of the best in his lifetime. Biden hit every note flawlessly. His energy level was incredible. His smile high-wattage. His demeanor benevolent, and his delivery impeccable. I was struck by some of the lines in the speech, particularly the ones that called out the petty financial penalties charged for flight reservations, bank use, and credit cards. These are issues that all of us complain about constantly, and he recognized them and vowed to do something about it.
He interweaved his speech with his staggering record of achievement in. just two years. Improving access to health care, lowering prescription drug costs including insulin, addressing the pandemic, the infrastructure bill that will create tens of thousands of jobs and finally fix a decaying America. His Inflation Reduction Act that includes the biggest investment to combat climate change in history, makes the tax code fairer, invests in American manufacturing for the first time in a generation, and on and on. Biden has delivered for America and then some.
Before the speech we were told that McCarthy told his caucus to behave. Ha! I don’t think anyone watching last night thought that would happen. When you have bad, intrusive kids in a classroom, they don’t suddenly shut up, and right on cue, McCarthy’s caucus treated him like a powerless substitute teacher.
And when they did taunt Biden, he gave it right back to them. When wacko Marjorie Taylor Greene -- again, I’m not going to dignify her by putting a title before her name -- screamed out “liar,” Biden's wide smile and comeback proved he was ready for her outburst.
Then cannily, Biden asked members to stand if they agreed that Social Security shouldn’t be cut, which they all did. Then to stand if they agreed that Medicare shouldn’t be cut, which they all did. Then, like a maestro, he quipped, “Well, then, this shouldn’t be a problem.”
McCarthy pathetically sat behind Biden, trying to shush his caucus, and that just illustrated the fact that he has no control over House Republicans.
The American people witnessed the dramatic dichotomy between Joe Biden and the GOP’s unruly House members. I am sure a vast majority of viewers watching were appalled by their behavior. The contrast could not have been clearer: a smiling, friendly, joshing Biden versus angry nutcases with rude and out-of-control tempers.
But none of that lack of dignity mattered in the end. Biden gave one of the greatest speeches of his life. At 80 years old, he showed more energy, more empathy, more humor, more smarts, and more wisdom than all the House Republicans combined.
History will say that that speech was an epic State of the Union. It will serve as the basis of perfection moving forward. It was also exactly the type of speech that a potential presidential candidate should deliver. Joe Biden is on fire, and what he did last night makes anyone who might challenge him a Democratic primary look awfully small.
When will America wake up and realize that giving Biden’s 45 percent approval rating is an insult? This man has proved himself over and over again.
When the speech was over, many members and attendees made a dash for the door; yet, 20 minutes after the speech ended, Joe Biden was still on the House floor, talking to anyone who wanted to bend his ear.
Giving a speech for over an hour is exhausting, even for somebody half Biden’s age. Yet Joe Biden, when the House cleared, stayed, listened, engaged, and took photos with the few remaining attendees. He wouldn’t leave until everyone who wanted to talk to him was addressed
I’ve had my doubts about Joe Biden running again, but no more. I’m getting older, and ageism is real, and people need to realize that you can function fine, if you’re in good health, after you hit 60, 70, and 80.
Betty White was in her late 80s when she made a comeback. Norman Lear is 100 and still working. And last year, 92-year-old Mathea Allansmith became the oldest woman to finish a marathon by completing the 2022 Honolulu Marathon.
I bring up marathons because running for president is akin to running one. It’s grueling. But if last night was a harbinger of Biden’s political future, he’s in the best shape of his life to run again.
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.