President Biden could have gone into this State of the Union address with a mission: to unite the country – nay, the free world – in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s brutal, illegal attack on Ukraine, a fellow democracy. He could have laid aside all the domestic issues of his first year in office to focus on the bigger picture: the threat that autocracies – whether Russia in the short term, or China in the long – pose to freedom-loving democracies the world over. He could have rallied us all to the Ukrainian cause, a cause that we all should support: defending democracy against autocracy.

While Biden has taken a number of significant steps to thwart Putin’s imperialistic ambitions, he’s never taken the time to lay out his long-term strategy to do so in a prime-time address. His speech on Tuesday could have zeroed in on that crisis, suddenly the focus of his entire presidency. It also would have allowed him to press a reset button (to resurrect a Hillary Clintonism) on his campaign pledge to purse bipartisanship, by entirely avoiding the domestic battles that have so divided us.

It’s hardly unprecedented for a newly elected president to face a foreign policy crisis, nor is it unprecedented for a commander in chief to use the bulk of his State of the Union address to focus on a threat from abroad: George W. Bush did it in 2002, after the Sept. 11 attacks. He spent most of that speech addressing foreign policy even though he’d already given an address to a joint session of Congress after the attacks themselves. While he spent time addressing domestic priorities as well, his newfound focus on foreign affairs acknowledged that he’d become what he’d never expected to be: a wartime president. Biden, today, finds himself in a similarly unexpected position.

Rather than speaking entirely – or even mostly – about the war in Europe, though, Biden focused on a hefty dose of domestic issues. While that’s certainly understandable with inflation and the economy still at the top of most American’s minds, he didn’t offer any new solutions on those, either. Instead, he used that topic as an opportunity to resurrect – in miniaturized form – his failed Build Back Better plan. To be clear, this wasn’t a plan to fight inflation: It was a plan to pump more money back into the economy, as liberals always want to do, regardless of circumstances.

By continuing to focus on increasing domestic spending, even in the face of the threat of inflation, Biden and Democrats (well, Democrats not named Joe Manchin) are denying reality. Even if their plans don’t directly contribute to inflationary pressures (and there’s plenty of reason to think they do), there’s not much real evidence that they would help fight inflation – especially in the short term, before voters head to the polls this November. If Democrats walked into the House chamber Tuesday night hoping that Biden would unveil his secret plan to fight inflation and save their political careers, they surely left disappointed – even if they’re not willing to admit it publicly. The truth is that Biden has no real plan to fight inflation; instead. he wants to save select elements of his Build Back Better plan and take credit for low unemployment.

Similarly, Biden announced no new bold initiatives for fighting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, instead preferring to take credit for actions already taken. It’s all well and good for the White House to lay out those arguments, but so far, Biden’s plans to punish Putin for his brazen acts of barbarism haven’t gone nearly enough. Although he’s announced sanctions, he’s exempted Russia’s energy sector. While he may have done that to save our European allies economic pain, and the sanctions appear to be having a major impact on Russia regardless, it’s not clear that impact is going to be large enough to change Putin’s behavior. Still, Biden hasn’t taken other steps to punish Russia that he could have: He hasn’t cut off diplomatic relations, nor has he cut off more companies from doing business there.

All in all, Biden’s speech Tuesday, far from laying out some grand new vision in any area, instead was bragging for what he’d already accomplished. Unfortunately, in the midst of a series of crises, he failed to rise to the occasion, leaving a massive leadership gap. That oversight will surely be taken advantage of by both his domestic political opponents and our foreign adversaries.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:
Twitter: @jimfossel

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