Emil Guillermo: Joe Biden’s roaring back, and he’s got our back
If my father were alive, he’d be 118 today (Feb. 8). More on dad at the end of this piece. I just know that as a union restaurant worker all his life, he would have loved President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address.
If you thought you were invisible, left out, and unseen in America, Joe Biden saw you Tuesday night.
Need cheap insulin? Tired of high late payment fees on credit cards? Feeling that the billionaires and the corporates get too much special treatment and don’t pay their fair share of taxes?
Joe Biden was talking to you on Tuesday night. He’s got the back of the American middle class.
The Asian American parts were also clear in the State of the Union address.
You’ll recall Brandon Tsay, the brave 26-year-old who singlehandedly disarmed the Monterey Park mass shooter at the second dance hall location in California. When Tsay stood up on Tuesday night and was recognized by President Biden, it was our moment.
Biden saw us and knows our pain. He called for a ban on assault weapons once and for all, saying that in the ten years the ban was law, mass shootings went down. After Republicans let it expire, mass shootings tripled.
“Let’s finish the job and ban assault weapons again,” Biden said.
Finishing the job was one theme in a SOTU address that left no doubt. President Biden intends on running again in 2024, the ageists be damned.
That struck me as the one thing hounding Biden leading up to speech night. I detected a touch of ageism out there, which is no less hideous an “ism” than racism or sexism.
And it’s not just among Republicans. There’s a feeling that Biden isn’t vigorous enough for the job. Or that he’s lost a step and is just not up to being the president. It’s probably why 62 percent of the American people don’t believe Biden has accomplished much during his time in office, according to a Washington Post/ABC opinion poll. A different NBC News poll said 48 percent felt very uncomfortable about a Biden run.
But if you saw his State of the Union address, you don’t have to worry about Biden.
His accomplishments? You just haven’t been paying attention. Between the Chips Act ramping up the semi-conductor industry in America and the infrastructure plan, Biden has actually done more than you’d expect righting the country immediately after four years of Trump.
The number of things Biden mentioned in his speech was rather astonishing, but they were still only first steps. “Let’s finish the job” was a common refrain.
One thing that was apparent from the beginning was a more united feel in general in the House chambers. You could tell by watching Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker Kevin McCarthy. They were like partisanship meters. Harris would jump up and cheer; McCarthy would sit still. On occasion, they both stood and applauded, like on Biden’s “Buy America” plan.
Or when Tyre Nichols’ family was introduced and the call was for police reform. During that section, Harris and McCarthy both stood and applauded at the same time.
It was adult government in action.
Of course, there was one moment in particular when the immaturity of divided government reared its ugly head and the juvenile bickering returned. Decorum–what’s that?
When Biden called out Republicans for wanting to put Medicare and Social Security on the line in exchange for a debt ceiling raise, Republicans jeered loudly. Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene could be heard yelling out, “Liar.”
But Biden was in charge and responding with a cool but feisty demeanor.
The president has long said Medicare and Social Security are not endangered under his watch.
“We’re not going to be moved into being threatened to default on the debt if we don’t respond,” said Biden, confidently off script and in control as he addressed the Republicans.
It really was Biden at his best. If you had doubts about him, watch the State of the Union address. He both stood up to his detractors and related to America.
On abortion, he said, “If Congress passes a national abortion ban, I will veto it.“
He also urged the passing of the bipartisan Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans, “especially transgender young people, can live with safety and dignity.”
On immigration, Biden said if comprehensive immigration reform doesn’t pass, at least pass his plan to provide the equipment and officers to secure the border. And for the DACA Dreamers, once again, Biden called for “a pathway to citizenship.”
He covered a lot of bases. But in the end, it came down to the basics. Our democracy. Biden closed with an appeal to bipartisanship.
“Every generation of Americans has faced a moment where they have been called on to protect our democracy, to defend it, to stand up for it,” Biden said. “We have to see each other not as enemies, but as fellow Americans.”
We may not be there totally yet, but it didn’t stop Biden from giving his grade of the nation, 4x strong.
Said Biden: “Because the soul of the nation is strong, the backbone of this nation is strong, because the people of this nation are strong, the state of the union is strong.”
It brought one of the night’s longest applause breaks, before he closed reassuringly. “I’ve never been more optimistic about our future, about the future of America.”
On a night when the TV audience could match the 38 million who watched the SOTU in 2022, Joe Biden just wanted to make his case.
He wants another term as president. And he just might deserve it.
The speech did make me think of my father. My new Amok monologue, “Emil Amok: Lost NPR Host Found Under St. Marks” is really the story of my father who came to America in 1928, and how his history changed my life.
Get tickets here.
Come see it Feb. 16-March 4 in New York City at the FRIGID Fringe Festival. And even if you’re not in town, tickets are available for the livestream.
NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.
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The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.