Stirewaltisms: An Experiment in Negative Partisanship
I take a back seat to no one in my disdain for the State of the Union address as an institution.
A televised pseudo-event in which the chief executive comes to Congress to instruct its members in how to conduct their business is so bad for small-r republicanism that it’s no surprise that the current form owes so much of its structure to noted stinkers Woodrow Wilson, who broke more than a century of tradition and delivered his report as a speech, and Lyndon Johnson, who moved the event to prime time to better his 1964 campaign kickoff.
I have preached that gospel for more than a decade. But this year at least gave us a useful microcosm of the current political situation. It was almost like a controlled experiment to show the effects of negative partisanship.
President Biden came into the speech with serious concerns about the left flank of his party. Weak incumbents tend to draw primary challenges, and with fewer than a third of Democrats looking for Biden to run again, the appeal for Sen. Elizabeth Warren or another big-name progressive to get in the race is high. That meant Biden needed to show strength and a commitment to causes important to the party’s activist base. But Biden couldn’t afford to be seen as a radical lefty to the persuadable voters who won him the presidency in 2020 and spared his party its expected shellacking in 2022.