President Joe Biden is set to give his first State of the Union Address at 9pm ET (8pm CT, 7pm MT, 6pm PST).
SOTU is a moment to not only address the state of the nation. It's also an opportunity for Presidents to sell their legislative agenda to the public. It's an event that gets a lot of eyes, and there are few opportunities like it.
But, in the attempt to sell that agenda, Presidents have to speak into the moment. They have to know their audience: what challenges are Americans facing? What is happening in the world? What is happening in their day-to-day?
Given the context this moment, President Biden has got quite the juggling act to pull off.
President Biden will be speaking to millions of Americans, a pandemic-fatigued nation facing economic challenges from inflation, rising costs generally, and higher gas prices. Add to that a last minute plot twist: Global crisis, the shattering of the post-WWII order, and an America now worried about nuclear war.
Seems easy enough.
Biden has highlights he’ll want to promote: two major legislative accomplishments in the first year, the historic choice of nominating the first Black American woman to the Supreme Court, and a largely successful vaccine campaign while the nation begins pulling out of Covid; or, at the very least, Covid as a national crisis.
He might want to highlight how he is the President who finally ended the two decades of war in Afghanistan and finally brought our troops home and….. he may also want to go a little easy on that one.
What will he be trying to sell?
The all but dead Build Back Better Act. Persuading the nation just might persuade Joe Manchin (that worked for the American Rescue Plan Act, after all).
Maybe elections reform.
But more specifically and most importantly: voting rights.
But above all else tonight, the President will need to rally the nation the behind him as the West squares off with Vladimir Putin. He’ll want to highlight the actions he’s taken, the work he’s done with allies, and most importantly: what the effects will be.
And this is where I think the greatest challenge will be.
He will need to project strength and fearlessness in the face of authoritarianism, to reaffirm U.S. commitment to defend “every inch” of NATO territory, and that in this fight of democracy versus authoritarianism, the United States will not blink.
But, at the same time, he will also need to reassure a war-weary nation that the U.S. will not be going into Ukraine. That there is no option on the table, no scenario in which American troops will put boots on the ground within those borders.
Above all else, President Biden will have to convince the American people that he is the leader for the moment.
Needless to say, it is no easy task for any President. But can he pull it off?
Only one way to find out.