Four New York Times Columnists Channel President Biden’s State of the Union Speech

From a New York Times story headlined “‘My Fellow Americans’: Four Times Columnists Channel Joe Biden”:

With President Biden delivering the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, four Times columnists summoned their inner speechwriter and imagined what they would like him to say. One or two hit a single note they thought the president should emphasize; others found a few chords that they wanted him to strike. The only ground rule for this experiment was that the columnists had to write in Mr. Biden’s voice, if not in his manner of speaking.

My fellow Americans:

People always talk about the state of our union in these addresses. I’d like to talk about the nature of our union.

Lately, we’ve had a tendency to be bipolar about who we are. At some moments in our recent history we have thought we’re the greatest nation of the earth, with such awesome power that we can reshape the world in our image. At other moments we have lost faith in ourselves entirely. We’ve withdrawn. We’ve discarded the idea that America has any special mission to help champion freedom and democracy or that the American government can do anything good.

It’s like the adolescent who wakes up one day to discover that his parents aren’t perfect and therefore concludes they are terrible.

I’m hoping we can settle upon a mature estimation of ourselves, one that accurately accounts for both our gifts and our errors.

We Americans are the people who fought two wars that are now widely regarded as mistakes, in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are also the people who staunchly contained the Soviet Union, so that when the time came, the people of Eastern and Central Europe could liberate themselves.

We Americans have fomented coups and supported dictators. We also led the fight against fascism and helped nurture democracy in places like Germany and Japan, which we conquered but never sought to own.

This skein of sin and heroism, guilt and virtue, runs through our history. Maturity is being humble and confident at the same time. Today, as Russia attacks and China grows more menacing, I hope we can humbly make it clear that we can’t change other nations in ways they don’t want to change but also confidently declare that the global weather patterns are fairer when the United States spreads the message of human dignity and supports the forces of democracy.

I hope we can humbly accept that history is complicated and we are not wise enough to plan it but also confidently remind ourselves that when the United States has stood with people like Winston Churchill and Volodymyr Zelensky, we’ve ended up doing a lot of good.

I hope we can humbly know that we are barraged by forces larger than us, like a pandemic, but confidently recall that we responded with a set of gigantic policies that helped ease the economic trauma and successfully brought our people through.

They say youthfulness is America’s oldest tradition. But it’s time we grow up and adopt a global posture that is humble about the means we use to advance our goals but is confident in the mission history has assigned us.

My fellow Americans:

Here I am, 79 years old, hoping to come up with a great closing act. Not gonna be easy. We live in an age when things have to be pretty exciting to grab the attention of all the folks who are spending their days on Twitter or Twizzle or one of those other internet things I know they’re up to.

But the last election showed us that when it comes to choosing between low-key familiar and exciting in a scary way, most Americans still do like a little constructive boredom. And that’s what I’m gonna try to provide.

We’re off to a tough start. Unlike one former chief executive I could name, I never thought of Vladimir Putin as anything other than a thug, but the idea that Putin would invade a neighboring nation was not at the very top on my list of things to worry about when I took office.

Still, you may be sort of comforted to have a president who knows how to handle foreign affairs. Whose goal is to end this horrible mess in a safe and undramatic manner.

Once we can turn our attention back to my domestic agenda — and that day will come — we’ll be talking about making the economy as normal as possible while everyone’s terrified about the price of oil. I’ll work like hell to take care of the problem, while continuing our fight against global warming. And, you know, mentioning the infrastructure bill at least once every hour.

But as much as we all want to go back to normal, there’s no way I’m not going to push for something new. The one initiative I really, really want to get accomplished is help for low-income parents. Financial aid and access to high-quality child care. If I can just do that, I’ll be satisfied. Many of my colleagues won’t be, but hey, I’d be happy to be remembered as a president who made things better without high drama. I’ll be the one who’s grinning when everybody yawns.

My fellow Americans:

I want to speak to you about a new challenge we face that few politicians talk about. That’s the challenge of falling birthrates, the fact that since the financial crisis in 2007, a smaller and smaller share of Americans is starting families, raising kids.

Our birthrate fell to a recorded low in 2020. That’s bad for our future: It means our society gets older faster; it means we have fewer workers for every retiree; it means fewer young people to take risks, dream big, come up with the invention or figure out the big idea that makes the world a better place. And it’s bad for all the Americans who are having fewer children than they want right now, who have dreams of family that aren’t being fulfilled.

This is a free country. It’s not the government’s job to tell anyone when or whether to have kids. But we can do more, a lot more, to make sure that Americans feel they have the support they need to take the plunge into parenthood. My administration is trying to do that with policies like a bigger child tax credit and universal pre-K. The other party likes to say that they’re the pro-family party, and some of them have reached across the aisle on this — but mostly they’ve just left American parents on their own. So tonight I’m challenging Republicans to step up and actually help the American family they claim to cherish, so that young people, young couples, feel they can afford it when it comes time to raise the next generation, to have the kids they already want.

And I also want to say something on a personal level to those young Americans who look at the world around them, who look at climate change or the pandemic or the threat from Russia and get worried about bringing a kid into this world. I’m not that young myself, as you may have noticed, which means I’ve seen a lot of history. When I was born, World War II was raging, we’d just gone through the Great Depression, and a big part of the globe was in the hands of ruthless totalitarian dictators bent on mass murder. And then when it came time to have kids of my own, the Cold War was on, and we all lived under the threat of nuclear war.

I’m not going to tell you that my life was easy. I’m certainly not going to tell you that raising kids was easy. I’ve seen a lot of struggle, a lot of tragedy, in the world and in my own family. But looking back, even with all the risks, all the danger, all the sorrow, I just want you to know: It’s worth it. It’s worth it. The challenges are big, but they’ve always been big — and the thing is, folks, human beings are bigger, and every new life you bring into the world is another candle lit against the dark.

My fellow Americans:

Let us start again.

I campaigned for president promising to bring our nation together. The promise has not been met. I will not point fingers. I will own my share of the failure. And I will work much, much harder to find common ground with all Americans.

We all know that the common ground is there — that compromise is possible. Each of us can stop playing the game of zero-sum, performative politics that has paralyzed our democracy.

Just as Democrats and Republicans reached for compromise last year in the historic infrastructure bill, we can do it again by fixing our broken immigration system — achieving, for starters, greater border security and citizenship for our Dreamers.

We can reach for compromise on the environment — by abundantly supplying our strategic need for natural gas and moving America to an all-electric automobile fleet.

We can reach for compromise on police reform. We will never abolish the police. We will honor the police by giving them the resources, the training and the respect they need to do their work. Just as there can never be justice without safety, there can never be safety without the trust of the communities the police exist to serve.

Such compromises aren’t only possible. They are urgent. America cannot fail at the task of making our institutions work when democracy itself is under unprovoked, violent, vicious attack.

Ukraine’s courageous people deserve the support of every American. And not just moral, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian support. We will not fight Ukraine’s fight for it. But we will make this a far fairer fight, with the largest shipments of arms Ukraine has ever received.

What Vladimir Putin has sowed, he shall reap. We will strengthen NATO’s front line. We will expose his corruption and that of his cronies and lawfully seize their ill-gotten gains. As Putin has sought to subvert our democracy with misinformation, we will undermine his dictatorship with information.

America never cowered in the face of the Soviet Union. We won’t cower now.

In the Jewish tradition it is said that “in every generation they rise up to destroy us.” That has often been true about democracy itself, from white supremacy to fascism and Communism to Al Qaeda. It is true today. We will face Putin down, just as we faced down past enemies. We will mend our divisions. We will build democracy back, better than ever, at home and across the free world.

We will start again — and we will start now.

David Brooks has been a columnist with The Times since 2003. He is the author of “The Road to Character” and, most recently, “The Second Mountain.”

Gail Collins is an Op-Ed columnist and a former member of the editorial board, and was the first woman to serve as the Times editorial page editor, from 2001 to 2007.

Ross Douthat has been an Opinion columnist for The Times since 2009. He is the author of several books, most recently, “The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery.”

Bret Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post.

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