I watched the speech – and the reaction to it – and noted some of the best and worst of the night.
* Invite the Ambassador of Ukraine to the United States: Ever since Ronald Reagan first invited guests of honor to the State of the Union, it’s been an opportunity for presidents to mark memorable moments in a speech that often feels like a long list of political priorities. Biden’s decision to have Ukraine’s ambassador to the US as first lady Jill Biden’s special guest marked a high point in his speech as the chamber – Democrats and Republicans – rose to applaud . “We, the United States of America, stand with the people of Ukraine,” Biden said.
* A historical backdrop: For the first time never, two women – Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi – sat behind the President of the United States during a State of the Union address. It was a remarkable visual. And that was the story.
* A return to normal: As the camera scanned the House chamber before Biden spoke, I couldn’t see a single person wearing a mask. When the president entered, without a mask, he immediately began shaking hands. It was as if every state in the Union before the world heard the words “Covid-19”. Biden said at one point, “We are moving safely back to normal routines.” To another: “Thanks to the progress we’ve made in the last year, Covid-19 no longer needs to control our lives.” The words made more sense because the room Biden said them in felt a lot like normal.
* Press reset button on Covid-19: One of the worst developments of the last two years is that a virus has become political football. Biden has argued for changing that reality. “Let’s stop treating Covid-19 as a partisan dividing line and see it for what it is: a horrible disease,” he said. “We can’t change how divided we’ve been. But we can change the way we move forward – on Covid-19 and other issues we face together.”
* Do not renounce bipartisanship: Biden peppered his speech with lines like “thank you to my Republican friends” and repeatedly acknowledged that there were real differences of opinion on major issues. He said: “It’s important for us to show the nation that we can come together and do great things.” Biden then offered a series of proposals — addressing the opioid crisis, caring for veterans — that he said could be done on a bipartisan basis.
* The work-from-home crowd: Biden made it clear in his speech that he thought it was time people started getting back to work regularly, after two years of Covid-19-related changes in the workplace. “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” Biden said. “People working from home can feel safe to start returning to the office.”
* “The Iranian people:” As Biden ended the section of the speech devoted to the invasion of Russia, he sought to praise the people of Ukraine. Except he said “Iranian people”. I know what he meant but hey, it took a little something away from the moment.