Biden and the State of an Onion
I call ’em as I see ’em. In my view Joe Biden’s first State of the Union address was a rousing success, and I cannot be the only person who went to bed on Shrove Tuesday with an enormous sense of relief. I was especially heartened when the president informed the nation and untold anxious millions around the globe that “Our forces are not going to fight Ukraine.”
Until that point I must admit I hadn’t quite realized war with Ukraine had been on the table, but it was certainly reassuring to learn that after years of doing everything in our power to make the present situation in Eastern Europe all but inevitable, we were not in fact going to take the final step of actually joining Putin in his lunatic adventures. Phew.
There were other assurances very welcome to peaceniks like yours truly, including wholly unexpected words of consolation directed at our erstwhile enemies the “Iranian people.” (This no doubt is what prompted an otherwise inexplicable tweet from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the country’s former president and, incidentally, one of the highest profile Michigan football fans in the Eastern Hemisphere.)
As someone who thinks that overmedicalization (especially the elective surgeries one sees advertised on highway billboards, which often lead to drug addiction or, at best, more surgeries) is among the great problems of our age, it was good to learn that Biden intends to “stop doctors from prescribing treatments.” My only question was how he squared this with his stark declaration that he himself had “ordered more pills than anyone in the world has.” Perhaps, like Kennedy putting together a cigar stash on the eve of announcing the embargo of Cuba, he just meant that he has been stockpiling. As a proud Michigander, I was thrilled to learn that “the uh the uh what used to be called the Rust Belt” would soon be transformed into “the uh uh um resurgence.” This no doubt is one of those “more safer” projects that will allow us to “wage war with greater clarity.”
Some readers will object that by focusing on the president’s verbal infelicities I am somehow missing the point. (Others, with perhaps greater justification, will say that I am cocking a snook at an old man, and that this is not a nice thing to do even when he is arguably the most powerful near-octogenarian in world history.) But this begs the question that there is a point, that all of these non-committal rhetorical sops and improbable-sounding if occasionally attractive schemes actually have any meaning independent of the context in which they are announced.
I for one have my doubts. This is why I found the speech supremely insightful. It reminded us, in case there was any doubt, that Biden and his handlers were totally unprepared for the reality of inflation and higher rates of crime, for the lunatic recalcitrance with which parts of the Democratic base cling to Covid-19 measures that even the scientific establishment is finally admitting were little better than superstitions, for the very real negative consequences of the latter, and for Putin’s war in Ukraine.
The greatest economic and foreign policy crises in two generations are being presided over by a senescent former senator who thinks we are still in Vietnam (unless the “hooch” he referred to was some kind of poisoned bootleg liquor) and babbles about “a pound of Ukrainian people.” Biden’s meandering transition-free address, from the Russian material that appears to have been awkwardly grafted on at the last minute all the way to the peroration that arrived suddenly, without any rhetorical work to prepare us for the fact that he was coming to the end, to the (almost certainly improvised) final words (“Go get him”), was a remarkably appropriate metonym for the country.