Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion, bombings, and slaughter throughout Ukraine prompted U.S. President Joe Biden to angle his State of the Union message on Tuesday in a way that fit the moment.
It took no great rhetorical art to craft, but Biden’s basic Ukraine message came off as clear, simple and, so far, credible. With Europe unified against Putin, Biden evoked a clash between the forces of democracy and autocracy. For a moment, we looked like a nation that leads the free world.
"This is a real test. It’s going to take time," he warned. "So let us continue to draw inspiration from the iron will of the Ukrainian people." Biden cited Putin’s quick isolation and instantly cratered economy as proof of U.S. allies’ effectiveness through sanctions.
Seizing oligarchs’ yachts makes for great populist symbolism. But Biden rightly resisted any temptation to disregard the long-simmering American consensus for avoiding interventions by our military forces. What U.S. plans lie ahead remain unclear for now, a hazard of circumstance.
With COVID-19 threats and controversy now waning and new troubles ahead — including fast-rising prices on various goods — Biden called the annual message to Congress a "unity agenda."
Biden and the country could still use unity. His giant, provocative Build Back Better plan is bogged down — with conservative Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin doing the bogging. Biden didn’t bring it up again Tuesday, at least as a singular concept. In a key election year, he clearly wasn’t foisting on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer any missions so difficult as BBB. His outright rebuke of calls to "defund" police sounded suited to assist the party’s fight to keep a House majority in November.
When it came to new proposals, Biden seemed to let the post-Ukraine part of his address become a choppily edited grab bag of initiatives rather than a fresh, coherent design for governance in 2022. That was disappointing. There were few pragmatic ideas to meet the threat of inflation.
Several of his top items, however, deserve action. The Medicare program should be able to negotiate drug prices to reduce them, and the price of insulin should be capped at $35 a month. Federal billions to develop domestic semiconductor production and other "made-in-America" actions could alleviate supply-chain struggles.
Also promising is Biden’s "test to treat" initiative that he said would provide those newly testing positive for COVID with antiviral medications on the spot.
The long-term toxic health impact on U.S. troops of burn pits — areas on military bases where waste is incinerated — also merits action. Biden called for heightened help for veterans suffering from respiratory cancers believed linked to burn pits.
Biden needs to better elucidate and argue for his domestic proposals as soon as possible so that neither the fog of war nor election theatrics delay vital business at the Capitol.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.