fbpx
Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Biden’s State of the Union Is a Call to Congressional Resistance

The nation’s annual headmaster ritual showcased a president recklessly endangering Americans abroad and pursuing division at home.

President Biden Delivers State Of The Union Address

The State of the Union has become a ritual humiliation for Congress and the Supreme Court. The House and Senate convene jointly to allow themselves to be used as props in a presidential campaign commercial. The president’s party holler and cheer like sycophants, while the opposition is forced to sit silently as it’s taunted for two hours. 

On Thursday, Joe Biden even admonished the justices of the Supreme Court to their faces, like some brave boy snarling at a caged lion in a zoo. They had no choice but to play the part of his punching bag. A Roman emperor could hardly demand a more docile reception.

Advertisement

A few Republicans did shout back at the old man yelling at them from the dais. And the father of a Marine killed in Biden’s botched withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan was arrested for heckling the man responsible for his son’s death. 

A republic with a shred of self-respect would not submit to any of this. Congress is under no constitutional obligation to invite the president to deliver such a harangue in person on the grounds of the Capitol itself, in the very heart of the House of Representatives. This practice may not soon end, since each party cherishes the opportunity for a president from its ranks to boast about his own exploits and beat up his opponents when they can’t fight back. 

But as the State of the Union—the speech, if not the national condition—gets worse by the year, the question has to be asked whether the “democracy” we hear so much about isn’t harmed more by the abasement of the other branches of government before an imperial president than by an unruly mob storming the Capitol after a contentious election. Thomas Jefferson had no doubt whatsoever on that score. 

The great theme of Biden’s re-election campaign is that he is the savior of democracy—never mind the fact that Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine during his watch, not Trump’s. Biden invoked the ghost of Franklin Roosevelt and set the scene for his remarks on Ukraine by reminding listeners of the plight of the world in 1941. 

But he then went on to contradict himself in a glaring way. If Putin is the new Hitler, and if indeed he will not stop at Ukraine, then why is Biden only offering arms to the Ukrainians? Lend-Lease didn’t stop Hitler in World War II; it took American and Soviet armies to do that. Yet Biden also said, “there are no American soldiers at war in Ukraine. And I am determined to keep it that way.” So Biden wouldn’t send troops to stop Hitler? Who’s the isolationist now?

Advertisement

Most wars are not World War II—in truth, only one war has ever been World War II, and it isn’t the war that’s raging in Ukraine now, awful though it surely is. Tellingly, Putin also uses cockamamie World War II hype to justify his bloodshed: from the first he’s claimed that the aim of his “special military operation” is “de-Nazification.” The crudest of propaganda methods serve Putin and Biden alike where foreign policy is concerned. 

Biden proposed no new strategy for winning in Ukraine, and he offered no explanation for the failures of his strategy to date. If Kiev’s counter-offensive didn’t succeed last summer, how is a nation with even fewer able-bodied fighting men now supposed to win with or without unlimited American arms? What is the definition of winning here anyway, and how will the next several tens of billions in aid achieve more than the last tens of billions? Biden offered no clues. He simply bashed his domestic opposition for not going along with blind war spending. 

Biden couldn’t even end a war properly in Afghanistan—how can anyone expect him to prosecute one successfully? Yet Biden cannot politically afford to see Ukraine turn into his second Afghanistan, so whether or not he has a strategy, or even a vision of what victory would mean, he has to see that the war continues until no Ukrainian is left to fight. He doesn’t need to win the war; he only has to make sure it doesn’t end while he’s in office. 

The domestic policies itemized and touted in Biden’s speech showed once again that he understands the Democratic Party’s only hope in the 21st-century lies in impersonating the Democratic Party of the 20th-century. Biden sampled and remixed Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton in presenting an account of Democrats as the party of the working class and upward-aspiring middle alike. Predictably, abortion rights figured prominently in the early part of the address as well, and Biden was eager to score points against the GOP by linking in vitro fertilization treatment to abortion. Biden is weak on foreign policy and immigration; he’s staking his re-election on the economy and a restoration of Roe v. Wade

But foreign crises won’t let Biden fight his rematch with Donald Trump on the terms he desires. Progressives and Muslim Democrats are appalled by his support for Israel’s war in Gaza, and they’ve been driving the “undeclared” vote in key Democratic primaries into the double-digits. Pro-Israel voices in the Democratic Party, meanwhile, are incensed at pro-Palestinian wing, and Biden is caught in the crossfire. Neither side can have been satisfied by Biden’s State of the Union remarks, which included scathing criticisms of Israel, even as Biden continues to supply arms and funds for Israel’s war. The most shocking proposal of the entire address was Biden’s plan to send American troops into the warzone, “to lead an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the coast of Gaza that can receive large shipments carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters.”

“No U.S. boots will be on the ground,” the president insisted. “A temporary pier will enable a massive increase in the amount of humanitarian assistance getting into Gaza every day.” Even aircraft carriers and other war vessels are exquisitely vulnerable to mines, drones, and even row-boat bombs in the asymmetrical wars of the 21st century. The idea that a “pier” will be invulnerable is ludicrous—as is the notion of sending the U.S. military into a war with orders not to fight. Biden is concocting a situation in which Americans in uniform could die—once again—and will be more deeply implicated no matter what in another war and occupation with no clear endpoint. Using American troops in this way is unconscionable: Their purpose is to fight for our nation’s security, not to risk death as noncombatants in Gaza so a war-losing president can play a humanitarian. 

Congress has shamed itself by permitting the in-person State of the Union address to become a campaign rally. Preventing Biden from using American troops for a non-military purpose in the middle of a war would be a step to reclaiming the legislature’s honor.