Skip to content

Is Joe Biden out of touch, or is he just cynical?

His whopper on Social Security and Medicare is nothing to celebrate

President Joe Biden may have thought he scored a win with his comments on Social Security and Medicare on Tuesday night, but he was wrong, Winston writes. Above, Biden makes his way out of the Capitol after delivering the State of the Union.
President Joe Biden may have thought he scored a win with his comments on Social Security and Medicare on Tuesday night, but he was wrong, Winston writes. Above, Biden makes his way out of the Capitol after delivering the State of the Union. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

It turns out Joe Biden’s second State of the Union was the speech that wasn’t. 

It wasn’t uplifting or enlightening or even explanatory. It wasn’t rhetorically strong or politically rational, appealing only to his narrow partisan base. It certainly wasn’t unifying, despite Biden’s many references to unity and calls to work together. 

Nor did it instill confidence in Biden’s ability to protect our national security in an increasingly dangerous world or manage an economy that the majority of people believe is on the wrong track. Watching Biden, it was clear that much of the speech was written simply to convince the American people that, contrary to what the majority of them believe, the state of the union is strong. Really. 

Biden’s State of the Union failed because it wasn’t connected to the reality that most people experience every day as they live paycheck to paycheck. The speech only reaffirmed the growing suspicion that Joe Biden lives in his own reality, a bubble where losing the House is a win and so are 6 percent inflation, rising gas prices, falling home prices and retirements put at risk by nervous markets. It makes one wonder if he realizes that exit polls showed that Democrats made up only 33 percent of the electorate in the 2022 election, the smallest percentage from 1972 forward.

After a speech like that, one has to ask: Just how out of touch with real America is Joe Biden, or is he just that cynical? Does he not see the polls because the polls are not good? 

Both The Washington Post (Jan. 27-Feb. 1) and CBS (Feb. 1-4) have new surveys out with data that clashes with Biden’s rosy view of the state of the union. 

In the Post survey, Biden’s job approval is at 42 percent approve and 53 percent disapprove. CBS has it at 45 percent approve and 55 percent disapprove. In that survey, 21 percent of Biden voters now disapprove of the job he is doing.

When it comes to Biden’s handling of the economy, the numbers are worse. In the Post survey, 37 percent approve and 58 percent disapprove, while CBS found that 38 percent approve and 62 percent disapprove. 

The Post asked people whether Biden has “accomplished a great deal, a good amount, not very much or little or nothing.” Contrary to the many successes Biden claimed Tuesday night, only 36 percent gave him good marks, while 62 percent said he had not accomplished much. 

They also asked respondents how they would feel if Biden were reelected as president — enthusiastic/satisfied or dissatisfied/angry. The numbers were more bad news for Biden, with only 36 percent happy at the thought of a second term, while 62 percent might be in the market for some anger management. 

When asked directly whether Democrats and Democratic leaners would like the Democratic Party to nominate Biden to run for a second term in 2024, only 31 percent wanted Biden nominated, while 58 percent said they wanted someone else. 

The CBS survey dug into voter feelings about a series of issues and the economy overall. By 61 percent to 33 percent, people said that the condition of the economy is bad and, by 68 percent to 32 percent, that things in the country are going badly. Again, those views conflict with Biden’s claim that the state of the union is strong.

The survey also showed that voters disapprove of Biden’s handling of inflation — 66 percent disapprove to 34 percent approve. His job disapproval on immigration was 64 percent to 36 percent, and on China, it was 61 percent to 39 percent. 

One of Biden’s biggest celebratory moments Tuesday night came as he bragged about passage of the infrastructure bill and the 20,000 projects already in the pipeline. Yet, even this “accomplishment” couldn’t gain majority approval. In the CBS survey, 52 percent disapproved of his handling of infrastructure, while 48 percent approved.

So, given these numbers and others equally negative out there, how does one explain Biden’s rosy state of the union that defied reality, truth and math? Perhaps a staff with a winning-by-any-means-necessary mentality might explain Biden’s struggle with the truth. According to media reports, his staffers celebrated at the White House post-speech, believing they had pulled a fast one on Republicans with Biden’s dishonest statement about Social Security and Medicare. 

“Instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset,” Biden said, before clarifying, “I’m not saying it’s a majority.” He got the response he wanted when Republican members reacted with anger and outrage on the House floor over the long-debunked claim.

Biden then kidded, “Well, I’m glad — I’ll tell ya, I enjoy conversion. It means if Congress doesn’t keep the programs the way they are, they’d go away. Other Republicans say — I’m not saying it’s a majority of you … but it’s being proposed by individuals.” 

Not even Glenn Kessler, fact checker for The Washington Post, bought this whopper, writing, “Not even the person who wrote the plan that Biden referenced says he supports a ‘sunset’ of the old-age programs.” Kessler fact-checked 13 Biden claims in the speech and found many of them either wrong, misleading or certainly debatable. 

Perhaps the president should remember that in July 1975, he introduced S. 2067, and gave these remarks, as printed in the Congressional Record: “In brief, this bill limits to 4 years the length of any spending authorization for a program. Furthermore, it requires that each committee make a detailed study of the program before renewing it for another 4-year period. The purpose is to assure a uniform scrutiny of all programs on a regular basis.” He went on to say, “This bill applies to all authorizations for spending.” 

Baiting the Republicans over Social Security and Medicare was not a moment to celebrate but a shameful side note in the State of the Union’s long history. In the end, it gave viewers the opportunity to see Republican indignation over Biden’s tall tale and his lame attempt to walk back a charge he and his staff knew to be false.

State of the Union speeches, at least in the modern era, have become hybrid media events — part political, part policy. All presidents tout their achievements, but Biden’s speech this year wasn’t what it could have been without the over-the-top hyperbole and the manipulation of truth. The country is the real loser when a president wastes this unique platform to divide people rather than bring them together, especially at such a difficult and dangerous time in the world.

David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, as well as serving as an election analyst for CBS News.

Recent Stories

Key results from Georgia runoff, Virginia and Oklahoma primaries

CBO: Deficits and inflation higher, but so is economic growth

Senate Democrats try maneuver to pass ban on ‘bump stocks’

Senate report piles on new allegations of Boeing safety failures

Matt Gaetz goes on offensive as House Ethics offers update on probe

Senate spectrum bill markup scrapped over partisan differences