The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Biden Gives America Warmed-Over Talking Points

President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President Kamala Harris on the dais behind him in Washington, D.C., April 28, 2021. (Melina Mara/Pool via Reuters)

On the menu today: If you missed President Joe Biden’s big speech to the nation last night, congratulations; narrative is running up the score in its competition with the facts; and a probably very mockable mock draft.

The Reheated-Plain-Oatmeal Speech

All of us in the political world are supposed to act as if last night’s joint address of Congress from President Biden was a big deal, but . . . it’s April 29. A week from now, on May 6, will anyone remember anything from Biden’s speech?

If you found the Trump years sufficiently chaotic and erratic, maybe it’s better for the country that Biden is boring, lifeless, and predictable, and that listening to his speeches feels like eating reheated plain oatmeal that you suspect is significantly past the expiration date. But being boring is not necessarily better for Biden.

One of the things that jumps out if you follow politics enough is how much Biden is offering the same old stuff as previous Democratic presidents.

Biden called for “connecting every American with high-speed Internet” to “help our kids and businesses succeed in a 21st-century economy.” I can remember when Bill Clinton called for connecting every school to the Internet and “build a bridge into the 21st century.”

Obama passed his stimulus bill, Biden’s got his three American [Fill-In-the-Blank] Acts.

Biden lamented how high the health-insurance deductibles were for working families and how expensive prescription drugs were, but I seem to remember him talking about a “big blanking deal” eleven years ago that was supposed to fix that — a big blanking deal that was never fully repealed. And in the familiar pattern of our presidents, Phil Klein points out that Biden is promising way more than he could reasonably expect to deliver: “There is no basis on which to claim that Medicare could save hundreds of billions of dollars by negotiating drug prices.

Biden just didn’t mention the situation at the border and hoped no one would notice.

Biden mentioned DARPA — arguably, dollar for dollar, the most effective and innovative section of the federal government, or at minimum the one that provides the most bang for the buck — and declared, “National Institutes of Health, the N.I.H, I believe, should create a similar advanced-research-projects agency for health.”

This is the sort of idea that sounds good when you hear it, but seems far less revolutionary and bold when you look at what NIH is already doing:

The NIH invests about $41.7 billion annually in medical research for the American people.

More than 80 percent of NIH’s funding is awarded for extramural research, largely through almost 50,000 competitive grants to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state.

About 10 percent of the NIH’s budget supports projects conducted by nearly 6,000 scientists in its own laboratories, most of which are on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.

I’m open to the argument that an ARPA for health at NIH would generate breakthroughs that couldn’t be reached at universities, medical schools, and other research institutions or the existing NIH campus, but I’d like to see proof that this isn’t just moving money around in hopes of generating new results.

Biden also echoed his predecessors by arguing that the national challenges of today are different from the challenges of the past: “Many of you, so many of the folks I grew up with, feel left behind, forgotten, in an economy that’s so rapidly changing — it’s frightening. . . . We’ll see more technological change — and some of you know more about this than I do — we’ll see more technological change in the next ten years than we saw in the last 50. That’s how rapidly artificial intelligence, and so much more, is changing. And we’re falling behind the competition with the rest of the world.”

And yet Biden’s response to these new changes is the same old agenda and proposals: Raise taxes. Spend more. Raise the minimum wage. Strengthen unions that have had declining membership for a generation, and who just happen to be Democratic Party allies. Other than the pandemic, there was little in last night’s address that couldn’t have been said by his Democratic predecessors in 2009 and 1993 and who knows, maybe even 1977.

Biden’s message in a nutshell is that China is making breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, which is why we need more unionized employees and a higher minimum wage. He’s the man from yesterday, trying to assure us that he and his team know how to prepare us for tomorrow.

Late in the Third Quarter, Narrative Has a Three-Touchdown Lead over Reality

Tonight is the NFL draft, and over on the NR home page, I have a piece looking back at the quick rise and quicker fall of Michael Sam — going from being the second-highest-selling NFL jersey after the 2014 draft to never playing a down in a regular-season game. I don’t want to pick on Sam for having such a short-lived career; being an NFL player is extremely difficult. I’m more interested in how the national political and sports media inadvertently sabotaged his career by relentlessly viewing him through the lens of a legend such as Jackie Robinson, and stuck by that narrative, even when all the evidence before them suggested Sam’s path was going to be quite different. I think he would have been much better off — and who knows, maybe still involved in the NFL in some form today — if people had stopped expecting him to be the next Jackie Robinson and just let him be the first Michael Sam.

You’ve heard, “print the legend.” The media world is extremely interested in modern legends in the form of narratives, and much less interested in facts that make things more complicated, murkier, and less cinematic.

And this happens in conservative media, too.

As I noted earlier this week, Virginia is considering an overhaul of the math curriculum that could well lead to a homogenization of what’s taught to all students from about sixth grade to tenth grade. I think it’s a bad idea — but a lot of conservative websites wrote about it as if it had already been enacted, and that all accelerated classes had been eliminated in the name of equity.

As far as we can tell, one copy of Kamala Harris’s 2019 children’s book, Superheroes Are Everywhere, was provided to a migrant child at a shelter in Long Beach, Calif. There’s no evidence that federal taxpayer money was used to purchase that book. There’s no evidence Harris knew about the book being there. Whichever volunteer or nonprofit organization made that decision to provide the book to kids in the shelter made a stupid decision.

Almost every element of the news involves some friction or all-out clash between the facts of a situation and the preferred political narrative. Memos and documentation prove the New York state government hid the death toll of COVID-19, while the Florida state government did not. Biden said he took office with “the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.” Not true, and not even close. The U.S. economy started to recover from the pandemic-driven collapse by June, and by January, unemployment was a modestly bad 6.3 percent. Biden said January 6 was “the worst attack on our democracy since the Civil War.” That contention requires you to ignore Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the Kennedy assassination, and quite a few other horrific events of recent and not-so-recent history.

Spike the Football!

Kyle Smith gives his own sales pitch for getting vaccinated: “When you get vaccinated, you are spiking a football marked Warp Speed right in Fauci’s face. Don’t hesitate: Glory in the opportunity. Go out and get yourself a shot, and yes, it is a ‘shot,’ a small but manly jolt to the system, like an ounce of Maker’s. Only a lib would use that prissy British word, ‘jab.’ Since when do we turn down a shooting opportunity?”

ADDENDUM: Okay, my mock drafts usually go terribly, in part because it’s very difficult to accurately guess any last-minute trades that change the order. So, assuming no trades — which is unrealistic — here’s my guess for the first 15 picks tonight:

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson. The only minuscule doubt I have about Lawrence — who’s probably going to be a superstar — is that when you’re a top-tier quarterback at a top-tier school such as Clemson, with a good offensive line and plenty of great skill-position players, you’ve got the wind at your back. Teams with the first overall pick are in a deep rebuild and a few years away from contention. So I wonder how Lawrence will handle real adversity — a four-game losing streak, a 1–6 stretch, etc.
  2. New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB, Brigham Young. All our hopes and dreams rest with you, kiddo.
  3. San Francisco 49ers: Apparently, they really want Mac Jones, QB, Alabama, who doesn’t seem like the guy you trade up a bunch of picks to get, but Kyle Shanahan seems to know what he’s doing.
  4. Atlanta Falcons: I think they shock everyone, get ready to move on from Matt Ryan, and pick Trey Lance, QB, North Dakota State, and this turns into a pretty controversial pick.
  5. Cincinnati Bengals: I know a lot of folks would be calling for a wide receiver or University of Florida tight end Kyle Pitts here, but the Bengals play it safe and protect their investment in Kyle Burrow by selecting Penei Sewell, offensive tackle, Oregon.
  6. Miami Dolphins: And then the Dolphins take Pitts here, and he scores about a bazillion touchdowns against the Jets for the next decade.
  7. Detroit Lions: Meanwhile, the Lions realize they have their pick of anybody on the defensive side of the ball, so they go with Patrick Surtain II, cornerback, Alabama, and relish having a shutdown corner.
  8. Carolina Panthers: The early teams’ intense interest in the quarterbacks has left the Panthers with an incredible selection of skill-position players to pair with Sam Darnold, so they select Ja’Marr Chase, wide receiver, LSU.
  9. Denver Broncos: I don’t think yesterday’s trade for Teddy Bridgewater changes their interest in a quarterback, and I think the Broncos would be thrilled if Ohio State QB Justin Fields is still there.
  10. Dallas Cowboys: I know Jerry Jones is publicly gushing about Pitts, so maybe Dallas trades up tonight. If that doesn’t happen, cornerback Jaycee Horn of South Carolina is a fine pick at this spot.
  11. New York Giants: The Giants have got to protect Daniel Jones more. Northwestern tackle Rashawn Slater is the pick.
  12. Philadelphia Eagles. Philly sounded somewhat intrigued by the quarterbacks this year, but there are just too many good skill-position players sitting around waiting to be picked, and somebody such as Kyle Trask of Miami would be a reach this early in the draft. The Eagles pick DeVonta Smith, wide receiver, Alabama.
  13. Los Angeles Chargers. The Chargers want to give their young quarterback more weapons, too, so they pick Jaylen Waddle, wide receiver, Alabama.
  14. Minnesota Vikings: With so many good players left on the board, the Vikings take a bit of a gamble and go with edge Jaelan Phillips of Miami, because good edge rushers are always in demand.
  15. New England Patriots. There’s a lot of buzz about Bill Belichick trading up for a quarterback, but Jimmy Garoppolo is either going to be cut or available for a trade really soon. Why take chances on a rookie when a known quantity — or going with Cam Newton — remain options? The Patriots opt to get a long-term centerpiece for their defense, linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah of Notre Dame.


The Latest