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Politics: Biden's 2022 State of the Union speech

Nigel Morris-Co...

If there was ever a unifying speech by an American President, this was probably it.

Only the most hard-line Republicans, determined to complain no matter what, will have much to say that doesn't support the vast majority of Biden's proposals. Yes, it was loaded with tacky rhetoric and tub-thumping and he lost his way from time to time but the general thrust of his speech was this: capitalism and social responsibility can live side by side and in doing so create a fairer and more wealthy society.

So, let's first get the presentation hiccups out of the way. "No wall can keep out a vaccine" Of course he meant "virus." Otherwise there were just odd fluffs that he either jumped over or corrected. None of them were material. And whoever put his script onto the autocue appears to have failed to make it clear that the subject was being changed: he often segued from one topic to another without a pause, causing confusion as to what one topic had to do with the other (answer: absolutely nothing). But these were also not, in the great scheme of things, material.

Next, what might some object to? First, he proposed a package of reforms that will be expensive. They are perhaps the most comprehensive package of social reforms ever put forward by a US Federal government. That, some will say, is an indicator of creeping federalism and contrary to the independence of the states. They will be right and that's a constitutional problem that many previous presidents have tripped over. Many who might support the principles will object to the centralisation of control over e.g. education.

The proposal for a national minimum wage of USD15 per hour is far from outrageous but will hit small businesses in e.g. catering which rely on part time help particularly hard: that, ironically, will undermine the success of the plans for childcare and to aid women back into the workforce after CoVid-19.

There was an unequivocal promise that none of the cost - which will be considerable - will be passed on to anyone earning less than USD400,000 per year (it is not clear if that is per person or per couple).

It will be funded by economic expansion - with GDP growing at more than 5% last year and more than 6 million new jobs created economic expansion is paying dividends and the deficit has been cut in half in just one year, he said. Additional funding will come from that usually ridiculous claim that some will be made to "pay their fair share." With more than 10% of the Fortune 500 companies, he said, paying zero federal taxes, that is not fair. It would be difficult to argue against the use of that term in such cases. There will also be action against aggressive tax avoidance including offshoring so increasing profits and avoiding taxes.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of what might soon come to be termed "Biden-omics" is that he embraces Adam Smith. America, he said, has learned the lessons taught by uncertain and, as it turns out, expensive supply chains. He argues that if companies produce everything, from start to finish, in America, then everyone's economic status rises together.

Yes, he had to nod to Harris' supporters with the California-driven measures regarding sexual minorities, the right to form a union and the situation regarding "dreamers" (illegal immigrants with long term residence) and a recognition of the Unions saying that businesses should cut costs not wages (a but of a "duh" moment, that) but his general thrust was that of a centre-right president, far, far removed from what we might expect from a Democrat.

Of course, he suffered from the blindspot of all politicians: he blamed the state of e.g. Federal roads and bridges on past neglect without realising that the neglect has occurred under a succession of Democrats, and that Trump inherited the present situation and although he did little or nothing to remedy it, its not his fault. And of course, he thumped the "leader of the free world" thing more than anyone except Trump should ever do. His claims of leadership in relation to Ukraine and sanctions were exaggerated.

His planned action against Russian oligarchs is interesting: he said there is a team identifying their properties and assets including yachts and they will be seized. New law will be required and he proposes one. Of even greater interest is the creation of a dedicated task force to pursue fraudulent claims for relief - including claims for benefits that were not passed on as intended.

Healthcare was almost front and centre: insulin prices will be capped at USD34 a month: he criticised producers for charging hundreds of times the cost of production driving families into poverty and/or preventing them buying it. In relation to CoVid-19, free testing and free masks will continue but most radical is the plan to prove "test and treat" at pharmacies: do a free test and if you are positive, get a Pfizer retroviral drug, free, on the spot. That is an absolute game-changer and if he had announced nothing else, that would be worth the time spent listening to the speech.

There is dedicated help for former US servicemen dealing with the aftermath of conflict including the infamous "burn pits" into which everything goes for open incineration and which emit, close to servicemen, toxic smoke. The result is many suffer cancer.

There is to be a dedicated research facility, modelled on the armed forces research body, to look for cures or effective treatment for cancer, diabetes and other dread diseases.

And then there was an indication of gun control, including the immunity of gun manufacturers from civil suits. He specifically drew attention to the lack, in some states, of controls on purchase and possession of guns, somewhat amateurishly asking "why should terrorists be able to buy guns without identification?" Then again, given the USA's lack of precision over exactly what a terrorist is, perhaps he can be excused. More pointedly, he talked about rifles with 100 shot magazines: he fluffed, or perhaps badly ad libbed, his only potentially decent joke of the speech: "deer don't wear Kevlar" hs said, stumbling as he said it. Well, true but 100 shot weapons aren't about Kevlar but about cutting down masses of people, shredding them as they die. It wouldn't have been funny but it would have been a better reason to argue against such weapons and a far more powerful image to plant in people's minds.

It was all going so well until the two sentences. Biden had started his speech with a tirade against Putin and had made an express promise that no US forces would enter Ukraine. He said that forces were being readied to act if Putin's forces went beyond Ukraine into NATO territory.

Then, at the end he did the God Bless..... thing. He said "God bless our armed forces" and fist-pumped. "Go get 'im," he said in words eerily similar to those attributed to Bush Baby sending a mission to deal with bin Laden.

It was a speech for a country, not a speech for a disparate collection of minor nations and that, of itself, is a problem. The southern and mountain states are still, 245 years on, resistant to federalisation and, as they did in the Civil War see it as the North (for which, broadly, read New York) and the West (for which read California) want to eradicate their culture. They see federalism as a form of non-fatal genocide.

That, not common sense or common purpose is what is most likely to derail Biden's generally excellent plans.

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