Rerun chic: Did Biden score an "aesthetic win" at SOTU?

Better question: how could any president not score an “aesthetic win” in the State of the Union circus? The entire imperial setting of the Roman-triumph process has been designed to exalt the executive at the expense of the legislature. Even the judicial branch gets humbled into the role of quiet obeisance in the SOTU process, as Barack Obama clearly demonstrated with his cheap-shot antics over Citizens United.

Advertisement

So yes, to that extent, I agree with our friend Jeffrey Blehar at NRO that Biden scored an “aesthetic win” last night … but only barely:

People react to an emotional vibe, and Biden, after carefully setting moderate expectations during the week, came and delivered a State of the Union that played as a folksy stump speech; Uncle Joe delivering a working-class colloquy. It was quite effective as a rhetorical ploy.

Biden played a losing economic and electoral-polling hand with the public as deftly as possible (with infuriatingly unwitting assistance from his audience, about which more below) by leaning into his retail political skills, 50 years of memorized blue-collar schtick, and the laughter and encouragement of the friendly half of the room (a half which was expected to be significantly smaller than it is, I might remind you). He began, noticeably, working them like a comedian, and on a purely aesthetic level (one which Trump bears an enormous amount of responsibility for normalizing with his radically casual approach to formal presidential utterances) it worked greatly to his benefit, making him seem in command of his brief in a way he has rarely seemed to be recently.

And that’s where Blehar loses me. Did Joe Biden do well when sticking to the script? Yes, for the most part. When he ad-libbed or got forced by anger from his subjects in the room over his shrill and false demagoguery, Biden got rattled and confused. And even while sticking to the script, Biden began rushing through his lines and slurring words so badly that it became difficult to understand what he was saying — while shouting a significant percentage of it at the top of his lungs, for some reason.

Advertisement

What about the speech itself? David did a great job dissecting it on the fly last night, but as I had predicted earlier, Biden delivered essentially the same stump speech he employs whenever speaking publicly. Substantively, it differed little from his infamous Independence Hall speech in August of last year, in which the White House made some terrible aesthetic choices. Remember this?

Biden talked a little more about unity in this speech than in Philadelphia, and he managed to refrain from balling his fists into the air while shouting his speech last night. Otherwise, very little of substance changed between those two speeches, including the blaming of Republicans for political violence. Biden took that demagogic shot without even bothering to mention the progressive rhetoric and its correlation with violence at pro-life organizations and the assassination attempt on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — who attended last night’s speech.

The only real difference was the setting. And that setting practically guarantees an “aesthetic win” every single time. When was the last SOTU in which a president did not achieve an “aesthetic win”? For that to be meaningful, it has to involve some risk of failure apart from extraordinary events, such as falling over or having one’s trousers fall to the floor.

Advertisement

The “aesthetic win” was a given, thanks to Congress’ ongoing efforts to turn itself into an inferior branch before the imperial presidency. It’s meaningless, except that it allows the White House and its allies about 24 hours to ride the aesthetics before everyone wakes up to the fact that all they saw was an old man shouting the same things he always shouts, and being as dishonest and demagogic as usual.

Yesterday, I wrote that people won’t remember anything of substance from this SOTU speech by next month, or maybe next Friday. For those of you who watched or listened to it last night live: do you recall anything of substance this morning? (Being nice to Kevin McCarthy doesn’t count, although it was at least momentarily gracious.) Any specific detail of a new proposal from Biden? Or for that matter, anything new at all except his choice of SOTU guests in support of his political narratives?

I’d bet the answer is no. The only win here is aesthetic, and that was fixed from the start.

It’s a good thing for Biden that there’s no such thing as self-plagiarism. It’s also a good thing that expectations for SOTUs are set so low that any president can clear the bar. No one expects anything else other than reruns, even reruns of shows that flopped in Philly. And that calls into question — again — why we bother with the Annual Imperialist Prom at all.

Advertisement

Join the conversation as a VIP Member

Trending on HotAir Videos

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
David Strom 5:20 PM | April 15, 2024
Advertisement