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President Biden delivers his State of the Union speech this week and The Washington Post editorial board urges him to turn the speech into a brief, compelling State of the Election speech.

Biden Encouraged to Turn State of the Union into State of the Election Speech

President Joe Biden will deliver his State of the Union address Thursday. He could follow the advice of The Washington Post editorial board by seizing the high-profile opportunity to make a State of the Election speech, or what board calls a “Give ‘em hell speech, Joe”.

“Mr. Biden needs to rethink an exhausted format, step up to the bully pulpit and make a case less for himself than for his worldview,” the editorial board wrote. “He needs to push back on the self-defeating isolationism, nativism and protectionism of the ‘America First’ movement, whose ideas are as dangerous now as when they were previously tried, and failed, in the 1930s.”

State of the Union speeches have become lengthy litanies of administration achievements and legislative priorities, with the addition of cameo appearances in the presidential gallery. “He shouldn’t squander his biggest televised audience of the year by delivering another box-checking laundry list that drags on more than an hour,” the editorial board advised “A moment of this gravity calls for something grander.”

If it already isn’t obvious, Super Tuesday primaries will confirm Donald Trump will face Biden in a general election rematch of 2020. Trump has dispatched a room full of GOP challengers and Biden is trying to stave off a rash of “uncommitted” Democratic voters upset over his Israel policies. But the die is cast and the contrast couldn’t be clearer.

The southern border animates Trump supporters and the assault on reproductive rights energizes Democratic voters. What’s missing is a more transcendent issue. The Washington Post editorial board says President Truman offers a relevant example.

Appearing politically vulnerable, Truman “won a full term by using the ‘Do-Nothing Congress’ as a foil and rallying the country to meet the geopolitical challenges of the post-World War II era,” the editorial board said, referring to Trump’s supporters as a “noisy minority”.

“Twice within our generation, world wars have taught us that we cannot isolate ourselves from the rest of the world,” Truman said in his 1948 State of the Union speech. “We have learned that the loss of freedom in any area of the world means a loss of freedom to ourselves – that the loss of independence by any nation adds directly to the insecurity of the United States.”

“Mr. Biden can make a similar argument regarding the need for the United States to support democracies such as Ukraine as they fend off existential threats,” the editorial board explained. “On Israel, what’s happening in Gaza has riven the Democratic base, but just like with his vulnerability on immigration, that makes it even more crucial for Mr. Biden to explain his thinking and what he’s doing to prevent a wider war in the Middle East while securing a peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis alike.”

“It is far less important for Mr. Biden to be
comprehensive than to be compelling.”

Brevity is Best
The editorial board says brevity will be Biden’s best friend. Truman’s 1948 State of the Union Speech lasted only 41 minutes. Biden’s address last year dragged on for 73 minutes, conforming to a trend of longer speeches, peaking at Bill Clinton’s almost 90-minute stemwinder in 2000 and Trump’s more than 80-minute speech in 2019. Richard Nixon’s 1972 election-year State of the Union Speech only took 30 minutes.

On Thursday night, the editorial board said, “It is far less important for Mr. Biden to be comprehensive than to be compelling.”

Trump routinely shares his ideology at his campaign rallies. Biden is more of a retail politician at ease in small groups. Trump constantly repeats his core issues. Biden stresses his range of legislative achievements. Trump relies on bombast. Biden uses note cards. Trump fumes on social media at night. Biden reads letters from citizens before going to bed.

Biden and Trump differ in almost every way possible. They both have traits people like and dislike. In the 2024 presidential race, they are on an inevitable collision course. Trump has laid down his marker on what’s at stake. Thursday night, Biden could lay down his marker.

Elephant in the Room
The elephant in the room for Biden is rising national concern about the southern border. Trump and his allies policies blame Biden policies for a surge in illegal border crossings by immigrants and inaction in preventing illegal crossings. Biden has said his hands are tied because Congress has not given him the legal authority to close the border or the money to increase border security.

Biden agreed to a bipartisan border security compromise negotiated in the Senate, which was blocked after Trump said such a deal would steal a key issue in his presidential campaign. The Republican-controlled House passed a border bill that couldn’t pass the Democratically controlled Senate. Now Speaker Mike Johnson is refusing to bring any compromise version to a House floor vote.

The editorial board urged Biden to take Congress head on. “It’s valid to castigate Republicans for killing the sensible bipartisan border deal, something Mr. Biden did during his visit to a Texas border town last week, but insufficiently,” the board said. “He needs to convey he understands that many see the millions of border crossings as a breakdown in one of the federal government’s core responsibilities and outline how he will use executive authorities to stop it if Congress won’t.”

If Truman’s speech isn’t enough of a blueprint, Biden and his team should steal a scene out of The American President. President Andrew Shepherd snaps out of his predictable presidential routine aimed at re-election and announces he will support what was then considered a radical environmental bill to reduce pollution.

The movie ends with a wake-up-and-smell-the-roses moment when President Shepherd, played by Michael Douglas, walks to the House floor to give his State of the Union Speech and hands a bouquet of roses to the woman he loves. When she asks how he finally managed to acquire roses for her, Shepherd says, “I discovered I have a rose garden.”

On Thursday, Biden will have chance to discover his rose garden.