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State Of The Union TV Review: Joe Biden Tackles The Age Issue Head On, Bodyslams Trump & MAGA GOP In Highly Political Speech Kicking Off 2024 Election

“If I was smart, I’d go home now,” President Joe Biden began his fourth State of the Union address on Thursday after receiving one of the few bipartisan rounds of applause he’d get all night. The well-worn line by the incumbent got a laugh as expected, but for Speaker Mike Johnson and many Republicans tonight, that opening line should have been a hint.

Put it another way, as Johnson and other members of his party stayed in their seats like wilting potted plants or simply walked out, the often underwhelming Biden came looking for a fight. Gifted by the flaws of his enemies, as all the most successful politicians are, Biden quickly moved from false humility to give the GOP a beatdown in a speech that most candidates would have saved for their national convention.

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But, as the bizarre GOP rebuttal that Alabama’s junior Senator Katie Britt delivered later more than made clear, these aren’t normal times. With bitter months to go, the 2024 election is far from a normal election. Also, this SOTU may have been one of Biden’s last chances to own the agenda. Tonight, with “comeback” one of the night’s big terms, he grabbed it.

Going off script again and again by lambasting his heckling opponents with barbed lines like “I know you know how to read” on the state of the economy; “another $2 trillion tax cut?”; and, over the blocked bipartisan border proposal, “Oh you don’t like that bill? … I’ll be darned.” Biden finally seemed the president in public that his aides and surrogates claim he is in the Oval Office.

Under all the policy and patriotism, perhaps what mattered most for the clearly energized 8y-year-old was defanging the age issue.

“I know I may not look like it, but I’ve been around a while,” the POTUS joked in his version of Ronald Reagan’s famed 1984 comeback witticism of “I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”

Biden continued, “And when you get to my age certain things become clearer than ever before.”

Indeed.

Relentlessly mocked by Donald Trump day after day as a crook, not tough enough and bordering on senile, Biden would have been able to plant a victory flag just by not falling down on his way to the podium. Instead, especially for a man who has never been a great orator at the best of times, Biden bucked convention. Putting it all on the table, the president of a deeply divided America went into full reelection mode.

Without ever actually mentioning the other guy by name, Biden spotlighted his “predecessor” over a dozen times in his 77-minute speech. With derision dripping from his voice, the sometimes-bellowing Biden baited the Republicans in front of him and the unnamed but obviously watching Trump.

Just like they have before, the GOP and Trump walked right into the trap. Just like they have over and over since 2020, the GOP and Trump underestimated Biden.

The former Celebrity Apprentice host did rant on his Truth Social during Biden’s speech about “the coughing, the coughing,” and claiming Biden wanted to take away “everyone’s guns.” (Well, Trump ranted when he could, as his social media platform seemed to keep crashing.)

It’s true: No matter how vigorous he was for most of the night, Biden did manage to mangle the name of murdered nursing student Laken Riley, transposing it with that of USC football coach Lincoln Riley. The mistake came while Biden was holding up the button with Laken Riley’s name on it that his SOTU nemesis Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) gave him in hopes of shaming the president over the immigration crisis and the “illegal” who killed the student. Yet, flipping the shame, Biden addressed Riley’s family directly with condolences and reminiscences of the loss of his own daughter more than 50 years ago.

Was it a stunt? Of course, and about as spontaneous as a sunrise. It was also perfectly timed political theatre that flipped the shame onto his antagonists as POTUS then took a swipe at Trump-bullied Republicans over the deep-sixing of that bipartisan border security plan.

Yes, the rally-cry election speech Biden delivered tonight was more political than almost any SOTU in modern times. Yet, 344 days before the election, the incumbent succeeded in firing up his base – which is the ultimate get-out-the-vote move – and made his adversaries look smaller and smaller.

Biden gave away his game plan as he glad-handed his way down the aisle upon entering the House of Representatives like the retail politician he has always been. If the party lines weren’t stark enough, numerous female Democrats dressed once again in white in homage to the suffragette movement, and in support of women’s rights, reproductive and otherwise.

“My purpose is to wake up the Congress and alert the American people that this is no ordinary moment,” Biden told the assembled Democrats, Republicans, honored guest and, more importantly. the millions watching on TV and online. With the ballot-box stakes higher than ever for the poll-challenged POTUS, the 2024 SOTU was a combo of legislative laundry lists, campaign lines and leader of the Free World poses — as many would have bet it would be. It was the political rope-a-dope in action that took things to another level. A student of the presidency, Biden has finessed the tactic over the years.

“It’s time to do more than talk,” POTUS forcefully stated. To that, in his SOTU and in immediate posts afterward on social media, the president repeatedly stressed the need for aid for Ukraine against Russia, humanitarian aid to Gaza, and a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians.

On the homefront, Biden pressed the need for gun control and restoring women’s reproductive rights, as well as patting himself on the back for a “strong” union with a bustling economy, falling prescription drug prices, lower crime rates, environmental measures, billions in infrastructure spending and more domestic achievements.

That’s what a SOTU is supposed to do.

Heading into a rematch with Trump this year and hobbled by disquiet about his status as the oldest president ever, a pugnacious Biden had to put his critics in the corner and his rivals on the mat.

If the vision of Speaker Johnson literally sinking further and further down into his high-backed seat behind Biden and the roars of Democrats in the House chamber for “four more years” were any indication, the seasoned street fighter from Scranton, PA was no-holds-barred in a classic made-for-TV moment.

“The state of our union is strong, and getting stronger,” Biden said tonight. If you were watching the State of the Union this de facto Super Thursday, the same could be said of the reelection hand the incumbent is holding right now.

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