Biden takes credit for rallying the world against Putin
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol on Tuesday. Shawn Thew/Pool via AP

As bombs and missiles fell on Ukrainian cities yesterday President Biden opened his first State of the Union address by highlighting what he described as his leadership of the Western world in defending Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

“Six days ago, Russia’s Vladimir Putin sought to shake the very foundations of the free world, thinking he could make it bend to his menacing ways. But he badly miscalculated,” Biden declared to a bipartisan standing ovation on the House floor last night.

“He thought he could divide us at home, in this chamber, and in this nation,” Biden continued. “He thought he could divide us in Europe, as well. But Putin was wrong. We are united.”

Biden tried to portray his administration as one that, like administrations during the Cold War, is leading the “free world” against the forces of darkness. “In the battle between democracy and autocracies, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security,” Biden said Tuesday night.

If there is any doubt about its messianic role of leading the “free world” that the administration wants to portray one has only to note that Biden mentioned the term “free world” over and over again during his speech.

The president briefly mentioned, later in his speech, the importance of passing voting rights legislation to counter attacks on the right to vote in the U.S. Those attacks are being mounted all over the country in states where Republicans are in control. There was no bipartisan applause to his call for passage of voting rights bills as Republicans in the chamber sat on their hands.

On voting rights, however, Biden clearly missed an opportunity as he inveighed against Putin’s attack on democracy. He could have tied the “worldwide fight against autocracy,” as he called it, to the battle for democracy inside the United States. When describing the U.S. as leading the worldwide fight for democracy in Ukraine it only makes sense that, in the same breath, he could have made mention of the need to fight that battle here at home too, especially given the fact that the attack on the right to vote is the most immediate threat to democracy faced right now by the people of the United States. As Ukrainians fight for their freedom Americans, particularly people of color, are fighting for their right to vote.

Biden predicted the demise not just of Putin but Russia itself on the world stage. “The free world is holding him accountable,” Biden said of Putin. “When the history of this era is written, Putin’s war on Ukraine will have left Russia weaker and the rest of the world stronger.”

On a host of domestic issues, Biden staked out progressive positions, many of which are first steps toward solving the critical problems faced by the nation’s multi-national, multi-racial working class.

Biden showed empathy for a nation suffering more than two years now from a pandemic that took lives important to almost everyone in the country, kicking millions out of work and exposing severe inadequacy in the health care system. He reminded people that when he took office he took action by delivering shots in the arm and emergency relief, including direct checks to people, eviction moratoriums, and sending money to state and local governments.

“We showed the potential of an administration and Congress that acted together at the scale of the challenges we all face. We showed how our government can be in the service of the working-class majority, not just the wealthy few,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan Democratic representative and member of the “Squad” said when she commented on the speech. “And it worked,” she said, “President Biden and Congress stopped what could have been an economic freefall.”

Although Biden didn’t say so, not a single Republican voted for that relief package – not one.

Biden touted the 6 million new jobs created during his year in office.

Although he did not mention Build Back Better by name, he did call for support for the most popular parts of the plan, held up now in the Senate.

Build Back Better would have made great advances in child care and in the fight against climate change and a whole host of other issues including access to healthcare, lowering prescription drug costs, eldercare, affordable housing, and many other advances. And it paid for all that with higher taxes on the rich.

While he called for support for some of the pieces of that program the President did not fully lay the blame last night at the feet of those responsible for holding up his agenda. While he attacked Republicans for giving the rich huge tax breaks during the Trump administration he did not single out the Republican Party for today serving only the rich and powerful and corporate democrats as having teamed up to hold up Build Back Better. He was going strong last night, why not identify the culprits, particularly since this is an election year?

Some important parts of the President’s agenda became law with the infrastructure bill. Roads and bridges are critical, but so are childcare and prescription drugs—and Biden could have pointed out that we shouldn’t have to choose.

The super-wealthy got even richer during the pandemic so we need to take the time now to start the work again of passing the Build Back Better Agenda in substance if not in name. The president made clear last night he is on board with renewing the fright for some if not all of BBB’s major components. The need, of course, is to pass all of it.

Biden mentioned the need to pass a bill that reveals the names of secret corporate donors to election campaigns. We need a government where corporate lobbyists don’t determine health care, climate, education, and poverty policies.

Biden mentioned standing up to big Pharma and insurance companies, and making drug prices for life-saving medicine, like insulin, actually affordable.

He mentioned the fight for the right of workers to unionize and called for passage of the labor-backed PRO Act and a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour that rises with inflation, the freedom to join a union without harassment or intimidation.

Paid family leave for all, also critical, was not mentioned.

He called for providing a path to citizenship for Dreamers and people who want nothing more than to contribute to our nation. He did not address, however, the various way that states and ICE are violating the rights of immigrants at the border and in detention centers.

The military budget is something Biden did not mention at all. We cannot seek peace and lead a fight for democracy here at home or abroad by continuing to spend three-quarters of a trillion dollars a year on weapons of war, making weapons makers and defense contractors richer than ever.

In the context of sanctions against Russia, which the president pushed hard on, he did not tackle the issue of how to avoid having the weight of those sanctions hurt mostly the working people of Russia. He did say he was increasing the use of oil reserves to minimize impacts of rising fuel costs on Americans.

On crime Biden called for funding, not defunding the police. While he said he was also committed to training police to have respect for the communities in which they work he did not specifically tackle the issue of African Americans dying in disproportionate numbers at the hands of the police. If this issue is not addressed the goal of safe communities in this country can never really be achieved.

Biden could have taken the opportunity, when he discussed crime, to say that the real path to community safety is investing in what people need to live successfully, like access to jobs, quality education, and real opportunities. He should have said we can’t police away homelessness, poverty, or the mental health crisis in our country. Care, not more criminalization, is how we ensure safety for all.

On inflation, the president said that rather than lowering the wages of workers to curb it corporations should cut costs.

Over the last two years, the richest people in America doubled their wealth. As profits skyrocket, corporations blame inflation while increasing prices on essential goods and services.

Most of the inflation we are experiencing is corporate greed that has risen to the level of extortion. If Biden had put it this way people would have fully understood what he was saying.

We need to tax the billionaires and mega corporations that dodge their fair share. And we need to fight back against unchecked corporate power that increasingly shapes our lives.

When talking about corporate influence on elections Biden could also have mentioned the need to eliminate the filibuster. Disproportionate representation in the Senate distorts the democratic will of the people. The filibuster, a tool perfected to defend Jim Crow, continues to be used to block progress. It needs to be abolished.

Republicans are trying to destroy the political power of working-class families and they’re willing to tear down our democracy to do it. They are saying the violent insurrection on January 6th was “legitimate political expression.”

To Mitch McConnell and his Republicans, corporate Super PAC spending dominating our elections is just free speech.

While Biden called for bipartisanship on a number of issues there are things he can do, however, without needing Republican support that rarely comes and if he did some of them he might win more support for Democrats in the coming Midterm elections. By executive order he can:

  • Cancel federal student debt, which would be a lifeline for millions in the U.S. and be a transformative economic stimulus.
  • He can ban federal fossil fuel leasing and drilling, direct federal agencies to reject permits for new fossil fuel projects, and regulate carbon emissions.
  • He can fix our labor rules to allow more workers to access overtime pay.
  • He can change how we calculate the poverty line so that more Americans become eligible for life-saving federal benefits.
  • And he can take action to break up pharmaceutical monopolies and make life-saving medicines affordable.

Hopefully, the speech, if Biden keeps hammering away at the issues, will serve as a take-off of the fight to prevent Republicans from taking power in the Midterm elections. If they do win, Republicans will fight for the wealthy against all of us. They will continue to attack voting rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, immigrants, people of color, and the LGBTQ community as they try to halt the fight against change.

Whether you heard Biden’s speech or not last night, make your plans now about how you will participate in the 2022 Midterm elections.


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.