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President Biden Turns It Up to 11

President Biden last night delivered one of the most political, combative, and loudest State of the Union addresses in American history. 

Let’s be honest, State of the Union speeches aren’t remembered for their policy and substance but for their subtext. Not since President Bill Clinton stared down his interrogators in the House chamber in 1999 a few weeks after being impeached has more attention been paid to body language and political theater. 

>>>READ: Biden’s Dangerous Climate Extremism

With Biden, of course, the issue is age, mental acuity, and vigor. Cameras paid very close attention to Biden’s every move as he entered his motorcade, walked into the Capitol, and made his way to the podium. The subtext: Would he trip? Would he collapse? Would he have a brain freeze? The stakes for Biden were enormous. At best, he would have a marginal uptick in his approval ratings. At worst, he would have a senior moment that could force him out of the race.

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Trump did Biden a favor by setting a very low bar for his performance, and Biden more than cleared that low bar, mostly by yelling. For Biden, it was the “I’m not going to let you involuntarily commit me to a nursing home” speech. He did that by rallying his base to serve as his bodyguards should wise Democrats try to take his keys. 

But Biden’s problem is not just age. It’s his low approval ratings and unpopularity that stems from not just policy failures and persistent inflation but a sense he betrayed his implicit deal with voters. 

Mark Leibovich describes this dynamic well in The Atlantic

I’m struck when I speak with exasperated Biden voters by how often they bring up the “bridge” quote and the “transition candidate” line. This suggests that they viewed their past support for Biden as an emergency proposition—and that his ongoing presence violates an implied bargain. Sure, politicians are always trying to keep their options open. But you can understand how voters might feel bait-and-switched by Biden’s refusal to go away.

It’s easy to sympathize with an old-timer reluctant to give up something he loves. In Biden’s case, though, the stakes are potentially catastrophic. By running again—despite his age, despite his low approval ratings, despite his poor showing in the polls against Trump—Biden could be engaging in one of the most selfish, hubristic, and potentially destructive acts ever undertaken by an American president.

Some commentators, like David Axelrod at CNN, thought Biden was trying to appeal to Haley voters by mentioning Reagan. But Haley voters understand that the Biden-Trump codependency (only they could defeat the other) was perhaps Haley’s greatest obstacle (70 percent of voters don’t want a Trump-Biden rematch). Moreover, Biden’s decision to not be a “bridge” candidate led him to pander to the far left and alienate the “normies.” Haley voters should leverage their suburban power to force Biden to drop out, not signal their openness to supporting him in November. If Biden hadn’t been so stubborn, Haley may be the Republican nominee. After all, how could Trump beat anyone but an 81-year-old President who had to demonstrate his vigor by yelling during his State of the Union? 

>>>READ: The Danger of Climate Extremism

On climate and energy policy, Biden didn’t break any new ground. 

He mercifully declined to use his “whole of government” phrase but couldn’t resist putting government, and himself, at the center of the solution universe. Biden said, “I’m taking the most significant action on climate ever in the history of the world. I am cutting our carbon emissions in half by 2030.”

For Biden and too many on the left, it’s “I” “I” “I” when in the real world, it’s “we” “we” “we.”

The greatest emissions success story in the last 20 years is the fracking revolution, which was largely driven by private entrepreneurs with limited support from government. The answer isn’t more top-down command and control policies but bottom-up innovation. Biden wanted to emphasize freedom, but he forgot to acknowledge that economic freedom is the best way to improve environmental performance. 

Biden also plugged his Climate Corps but that’s also more of the same top-down approach that won’t have much appeal beyond his base. As my colleague Jeff Luse wrote in National Review:

While these are laudable objectives, the private sector and existing federal, state, and local programs are already doing this work. America’s young don’t need wasteful, redundant government programs that they’ll have to pay for one day. They need fiscal responsibility and policies that support innovation and empower the market to meaningfully reduce emissions.

In the final analysis, Biden performed well above already low expectations but if he doesn’t alter the fundamentals of the 2024 race dramatically and quickly, this State of the Union will be his last.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of C3.

Copyright © 2020 Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions

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