Joe Biden’s speech to a truncated joint session of Congress this week may well be one of the most important reports a president has ever given to this body, in writing or in person. In fact, it is best compared to some of the written annual reports Abraham Lincoln presented to Congress during his time of unprecedented crisis and division. Contrary to Lincoln’s reports, Biden’s political opposition was able to offer a formal rebuttal to his words. In fact, the country has rarely seen such a stark contrast in the visions Joe Biden and Senator Tim Scott have offered on the state of the country and the role the government is playing in changing it for the better.
The president framed his remarks around the two themes of crisis and opportunity. “The worst pandemic in a century. The worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The worst attack on our democracy since the civil war. He later clarified that there was also a racial crisis, exacerbated by the disproportionate number of people of color among the victims of COVID, as well as the wave of police killings of unarmed black men during of the past year. The climate crisis was above all of these challenges.
He then reviewed what his government had done in its first 100 days to deal with these crises: the 220 million vaccinations, the $ 1,400 in relief checks sent to 85% of American households, the 800,000 people. additional health care, halving child poverty, creating 1,300,000 new jobs. All of this put the economy on track to grow 6% in 2021, the best score in over forty years. For the future, he proposed infrastructure transformation plans to include transport, water supply, electricity grid, child and elderly care and education.
To grow the economy and meet the climate challenge, he proposed quantum increases in investments in renewables, electric vehicles and batteries, as well as research to deepen the development of the technology to provide the means to move forward. again. Along with these proposals, the president called for a minimum wage of $ 15, a law on equal pay, as well as a law protecting the right of workers to organize,
Then the kicker, which left all Republicans standing still: Biden offered to pay for his transformation proposals through tax reform that would make the wealthy and corporations pay their fair share and restore the IRS’s ability to uncover and prosecute. tax evasion and avoidance.
America, Joe Biden announced, is once again committed to being a leader of the international order to meet the challenges of the 21st century. More libertarian approach, like Donald Trump, who saw international relations as transactional or zero-sum competition. Biden is also committed to eradicating the historically entrenched systemic racism in our society. All this to defend a democracy that a Trump-inspired crowd nearly toppled last January. To defend a government which, as Biden reminded us, is not a foreign force, but us – “us, the people”. How can we use our own power to improve our lives as a people? Biden was leading the way.
And then along came Republicans dream Tim Scott: a black religious libertarian who uses his life story to preach that earthly salvation lies in having a mom who prays and works hard enough for you. The government only wastes your hard earned money on its overbreadth. No real crisis here at all, guys. God and robust individualism conquer all. Better yet, Scott is perfectly prepared to make sure that “America is not a racist country,” that the restrictive election laws that pervade Republican legislatures are not racist, and that Biden, through his politics, divides the country. History, common sense and the polls have belied all such blatant gaslighting.
It was the pathetic Republican “rebuttal” to a masterful presidential presentation. The evening could not have brought out more clearly the comparative state of the two major American parties.
Robert Emmett Curran is Professor of History Emeritus at Georgetown University.