Fact-Checking the State of the Union Address
Usually, State of the Union Addresses have a certain political agenda laundry list feel to them. And often, there is partisan or political disagreement over some of the premises upon which the president may base the address. But President Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address set a new record both for its lack of candor and its divisiveness. There was a time when the State of the Union address was designed to promote the President’s agenda, but to do it in a way that was intended to encourage the opposition to find common ground on joint priorities. But Biden used the occasion to further divide the nation by using a long series deception to browbeat his opposition and make his presidency seem more successful than it actually is. Polling shows that most Americans see Biden’s job performance unfavorably.
Let’s look at the substance of the address and determine what was factual and what was just raw political sophistry.
Cutting the Deficit
Biden claimed that he had cut the deficit by more than any previous president. But here’s what he didn’t tell you. He actually increased dramatically federal spending and added trillions to the national debt. But there were trillions of COVID emergency spending measures that were always scheduled to expire. Biden did nothing to make that happen. In many cases, he has tried to extend COVID spending and powers. But now he claims the automatic expiration of temporary emergency spending is some sort of proof of his fiscal responsibility. This is a deception so bold, it is worthy of five out of five Pinocchios.
The National Debt and His Predecessor
Biden claimed that the so-called Trump tax cuts caused the national debt to soar. What he didn’t tell you is that what drove the national debt up during his predecessor’s term were the trillions and trillions of emergency COVID spending and pandemic relief that passed with strong bipartisan support.
Biden claimed that he has lowered inflation. But inflation is still at very high historical levels and it is still far higher than it was when he took office. While it has come down very slightly since its high this past summer, it is still shockingly high, and prices continue to rise at an historically high pace. If a man has been gaining 8 to 9 pounds a month for more than a year and then he starts gaining only 6 or 7 pounds a month, that is not evidence that he’s losing weight or that he’s solved his weight gain problem. Every month Americans become poorer and poorer. Biden’s deception on inflation is worthy of five out of five Pinocchios.
Biden claimed that “gas prices are down $1.5 a gallon since their peak.” By using this way of measuring gas prices, Biden is clearly trying to avoid responsibility for the fact that despite recent declines in gas prices, gas is still substantially more costly than it was when he took office. During his campaign he repeatedly bragged that he would attack our established energy sectors and that he would drive them out of business. He did precisely that and then prices began to skyrocket. This harmed American consumers and killed thousands of good paying jobs. But it also benefited Putin by driving world energy prices higher and us giving him extra resources to withstand the sanctions when he attacked Ukraine. Biden’s claim of recent price declines cannot hide the underlying fact that his energy policies have harmed Americans and benefited and emboldened one of our major adversaries.
On the border crisis, Biden refused to acknowledge that it is a matter that is 100% of his making. He even suggested that the problem was the fault of the GOP and called upon them to fully fund his plan — as if the problem at the border is that the GOP won’t fund his plan to fix the problem. But he has no plan. He has been president for two years with control of both the House and the Senate and no plan has been submitted to fix the problem. In fact, he and his party have refused to complete the wall — even going so far as to stop construction that was already paid for when he took office. Likewise, he and his allies in Congress have steadfastly refused to hire more border control agents to protect and monitor the border. And when asked if he would do anything differently, Biden said no. So the idea that the GOP caused this border crisis and that he’s waiting on them to enact his plan is sheer fantasy. That’s another five Pinocchios.
Biden claims that he inherited an economy that was “reeling” and that he and his programs have created record job creation. While it is true that in the past two years, we’ve seen 12 million jobs return from the pandemic shutdowns, Biden claiming credit for the rebound is highly deceptive. For example, we are still millions of jobs short of where we were before the pandemic struck and before the massive shutdowns went into effect. Likewise, the jobs bounce back began before Biden was inaugurated and it would have continued even if a high schooler occupied the Oval Office.
Biden has been a net job killer, not a net job creator. He has killed a lot of good paying energy jobs. But he hasn’t actually created any jobs — because the job bounce back was going to happen no matter what — once the lockdowns were lifted. And he’s advocated keeping some of the lockdown measures in place for two extra years. So, he has slowed the recovery, not aided it. Likewise, the labor participation rate and the employment to population ratio are well below what they were in February 2020. So, Biden’s claim is not credible or accurate. It is a classic case of misusing and abusing statistics to make a case that has no basis in fact.
Biden claimed that wage growth or take-home pay has gone up. This is yet another case of Biden being deceptive in the use of statistics. While nominal wages have gone up, inflation has risen far faster so the undeniable fact is that inflation-adjusted wages have fallen under Biden. And they continue to fall because inflation continues to savage the buying power of American workers and families. Biden’s own Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that real weekly earnings have fallen since Joe Biden took office by roughly 4%.
Increased New Business Applications
Biden claims credit for 10 million Americans applying to start a new small business. But this is like the jobs claim. If you shut down jobs all across the nation for a year or longer small businesses fold and collapse in record number. Once you lift those shut down orders, guess what — there will be a surge in small businesses starting up again. And that surge began to surge and peaked on his predecessor’s watch. While the surge rebound continued during Biden’s presidency, it declined from the earlier peak.
Taxing the Rich
Biden used false and made-up or contrived statistics to suggest that billionaires pay less than 8% income tax. By falsely using unrealized paper gains to do the calculations, he converted assets that are not legally considered income into income, nonetheless. If one uses the IRS’s long established legal standard for income and not Biden’s connived make-believe one, billionaires pay roughly 24% income taxes — not 8%. This is also worthy of 5 Pinocchio’s.
Showing Strength and Resolve in Dealing with China
Biden claimed that shooting down a Chinese spy balloon — after it had flown over the entire North American continent and collected untold private communications and information, and likely scanned underground military installations — was evidence of his strength and resolve in protecting our country from China. The balloon could have been shot down over the Pacific Ocean as it entered US territorial airspace, or when it was over uninhabited areas of Alaska. But the Biden Administration kept it quiet and was prepared to let it come and go without action or comment, except that people saw it and began talking about it. Thus, Biden was forced to do something. No strength was displayed. It revealed his weak leadership and his penchant towards half measures. The idea that Biden has been a strong leader on the international stage is not born out by the facts. He showed shocking weakness and ineptitude in the poorly executed withdrawal from Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, both Russia and China began to threaten their neighbors because they felt emboldened and realized that they had a window of opportunity during a Biden administration to work their mayhem. Biden’s claim that the balloon fiasco proved him a strong and resolute leader is worthy of 5 Pinocchios.
Social Security and Medicare Cuts
Biden also claimed that the Republicans have a plan to slash Social Security and Medicare even though the Republican Speaker of the House and the Republican leader in the Senate have said that any cuts to either program will not receive GOP support. Biden’s claim was a reference to a proposal by Rick Scott to secure Social Security and Medicare which are imperiled by uncontrolled government spending. Thus, Scott suggested that federal laws be sunsetted periodically so that Congress would have to review them for effectiveness before extending them. It is very interesting that Biden uses this as a basis, for accusing the Republicans of wanting to slash Medicare and Medicaid, because he has proposed the exact same thing, and specifically included, cuts to Medicare and Social Security and repeatedly bragged about it when he was a senator.
Occasionally, there have been discussions from both sides of the aisle to trim benefits for higher-income earners — on the theory that Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett and Elon Musk do not need a social security check or help paying their medical bills. But the GOP does not have any plan or desire to slash Social Security or Medicare. Biden pretending that a general proposal that federal legislation should periodically be sunsetted and require congressional action to renew it, is somehow a covert attack on Social Security and Medicare stretches credulity. This entire portion of Biden’s speech gives rank hypocrisy a bad name.
GOP Decorum During the Address
Many have commented on the reaction — sometimes quite vocal — from GOP lawmakers during the address. Generally, the complaint is that such reactions violated long established, but unwritten rules of decorum. That may well be true. The State of the Union Address didn’t used to be an ugly partisan event. But the ugliness is just the reaction of lawmakers — much of the ugliness comes from the podium or rostrum. After all, it does take two to tango.
It seems very odd to be upset with people who don’t respond positively to a long string of intentionally deceptive, politically motivated, and highly divisive statements, but have no complaints about the person who speaks the misleading, false, and alienating remarks for more than an hour. If some guy in church is punching people in the face seated in a nearby pew and those punched repeated in the face become upset and raise their voice for him to stop it, it would seem very odd to act as if those who rose their voices in objection to the abuse are the guiltiest of disturbing the reverence at church.
There is no doubt that the GOP lawmakers who were upset at Biden’s deceptive and divisive speech could have just sat quietly and rolled their eyes or even just left the chamber and thereby maintained the historical decorum of the event. And we can have a discussion about their behavior. But to pretend that the President’s behavior doesn’t need to be addressed and that he doesn’t need to be held accountable suggests both an intellectual and a moral blind spot.
If we want to build a more grown up and collegial political environment, it will require all parties to the process to behave in a more mature, harmonious and reciprocal way. But demanding that just one side behave better and allowing the other to continue on without changing their behavior would be like telling those who objected to being beaten by the rogue parishioner that they must be reverent in church — but saying nothing to the rogue who was punching his fellow parishioners during the church service.
We need a lot more maturity, honesty and integrity in the halls of our government. But in a democracy, Winston Churchill once observed that we get the government we deserve. Perhaps we need to deserve better than this. Perhaps we need to send higher quality people to Washington — people who value the truth, who accept responsibility, who can disagree without being disagreeable, who are capable of critical thought and don’t get mired down in their own feelings, and who value the Constitution and its system of limited government, but maximum freedom and unlimited opportunity.
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