Biden’s State of the Union: Lots of Empty Promises

Image source: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, President Biden delivered his State of the Union speech. And it was in line with how the Democratic Party and Biden’s administration have presented themselves since Biden took office. In short, there were a bunch of promises, most of which will likely never be fulfilled.

Biden pronounced that his administration is ready to pass legislation to reinstate Roe v. Wade. He promised to give teachers a raise, to make preschool affordable to everyone, to link a college education to a guaranteed good-paying job, to reduce prescription drug prices, to provide poor communities with resources to reduce poverty and unemployment and crime. He even promised to ban assault weapons. There were promises to create millions of jobs through shifting new production to the United States. There were other promises, too. But most of these promises were dripping with hypocrisy.

Biden promises they will work to reinstate Roe v Wade? But Roe v Wade is clearly not enough to guarantee that women and pregnant people have access to an abortion anyway. What good is a so-called right if there is no access or it is not affordable? They had years to do this before, under the Clinton and Obama administrations, and they did nothing of the sort, even as access to abortion was being stripped away across the country.

The promise to fund education is not new. There have been occasional education funding increases at the federal level, but their impact is small because the federal government provides less than 8% of K-12 education funding. The vast majority of funds for education come from the individual states. Even if the federal government increases these funds a little – if it were ever to decide to do this – it will not at all address the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been gutted from state education budgets over the past decades.

Similarly, the jobs that are being promised, if they ever were to materialize, will have a far way to go to be considered good-paying jobs. Most workers today have seen their wages decline when compared to inflation, especially in housing, food, and energy. Workers’ retirement plans and health care benefits – if they even have any – are being cut. The majority of workers in this country – about 64 percent –  are living paycheck to paycheck, with not enough money to cover a sudden expense of $500. Having a job is certainly better than struggling to get by on no income, but providing more jobs where workers can barely scrape by is nothing to brag about.

Missing from the State of the Union, of course, was the fact that when the Democrats had a chance to support workers in their efforts to actually improve their working conditions, health care coverage, and paid days off, the Democrats chose not to, and instead decided to vote for Congress to block a strike of railroad workers and impose on them a contract that the rail workers did not want. So, the promise of better-paying jobs, and the promise of legislation that will increase the unionization of workers – all of these promises go out the window when we just look at what the Biden administration has done so far.

In the end, the State of the Union sounded much more like a classic campaign speech, where Biden made big promises with no intention to follow through. The Democrats are, of course, well aware that even if they actually wanted to pass some of the legislation they promised, it is far more likely that none of it will become law since the Republicans have the majority in the House of Representatives. So, these big promises serve as a sort of insurance for the Democrats. It means they can appear to have this big agenda to help working people, but in the end, they don’t have to carry out any of it. And then they get to blame the Republicans for blocking it. This could then be used to set themselves up nicely for the 2024 elections, urging people to vote for them if they want to get anything done, and then their cycle of lies and false promises might be able continue for another four years.

The actual State of the Union was ignored in Biden’s speech. Neither party has any interest in addressing the real problems most working people face because those very problems are not the result of the occasional misstep of this or that politician or political party. Whether it’s our wages and working conditions, or the destruction of the environment, or the violence many of us face at the hands of the police, or many other problems – the vast majority of the challenges we face are produced by this system that prioritizes the accumulation of profit over all else. And both parties equally serve to maintain that system. To begin to address these problems in even a small way would mean to dig into the enormous coffers of wealth of the banks and corporations; it would mean digging into the federal budget and slashing the military budget to fund things that can actually benefit people. But neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will ever do that.

But their song and dance is not new, and it isn’t so easy to get people to fall for this game of false promises forever. And when working people begin to realize that neither party represents our interests, and that it is up to working people to organize together to represent our own interests, then we can begin to make real changes.