Opinion | Our Columnists on the Best and Worst Moments From the State of the Union

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Welcome to Opinion’s coverage of President Biden’s State of the Union address. In this special feature, Times Opinion writers rate Biden’s performance on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 means the night was a disaster; 10 a triumph. Here’s what our columnists and contributors thought of the event.

Binyamin Appelbaum In a speech with multiple fire-breathing moments, I was struck by Biden’s level tone as he declared that those who fought to overturn Roe v. Wade were going to learn about “the power of women.”

Jamelle Bouie I thought Biden’s best line was his move to connect reproductive freedom to freedom writ large: “Many of you in this chamber and my predecessor are promising to pass a national ban on reproductive freedom,” he said. “My God,” what other freedoms “would you take away?”

Gail Collins For Biden, the speech was a real rouser. The audience didn’t walk out worrying about his age this time. His delivery had the kind of energy that his fans often worry Donald Trump has and Biden doesn’t.

Michelle Cottle Biden brought the heat, repeatedly hitting Republicans for following Trump down a bad path. My favorite: scolding them for blowing up the bipartisan border-security deal because Trump called them up and told them he needed it as a campaign issue.

Ross Douthat Every moment when he poked and prodded and made fun of congressional Republicans. Bonus points for the cut to a laughing Lindsey Graham.

Michelle Goldberg When he looked right at the Supreme Court justices and, quoting Samuel Alito about women’s political power from his opinion overturning Roe, said, “You’re about to realize just how much.”

Pamela Paul Biden’s extended promenade into the chamber put him on firm footing. He was relaxed, invigorated and visibly delighted. The room gets a lot of credit tonight for providing the energy and enthusiasm — even the jeers — that an old pol like Biden clearly thrives on.

Megan K. Stack I felt huge relief when Biden suddenly spat out three distinct demands: Pass the Equality Act! Pass the PRO Act! Raise the minimum wage! Not only because I agree with all three — I was, by then, hungry for specific policy proposals without the cheesy anecdotes or special guests.

Bret Stephens Invoking Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech to embarrass Republicans on helping Ukraine was a brilliant rhetorical touch.

David Wallace-Wells It wasn’t one moment. It was Biden as an angry middle-class warrior — ticking off a long list of pretty generic American frustrations and grievances, from the unfairness of the tax code to the horrors of prescription drug pricing, junk fees and shrinkflation. He made a point of scoring partisan points, but the overall vibe was much less partisan than common-sense.

Appelbaum I am so tired of hearing about plans to help factory workers. A vast majority of American workers are employed in the service sector, and they will never work in factories. Where are the plans to improve the lives of those workers?

Bouie I do not think Biden has a good answer for younger and more progressive Democrats on American support for Israel’s war in Gaza, and I think his attempt to provide one fell flat.

Collins No real downers. He did meander now and then, on topics like education, but certainly nothing to whine about.

Cottle No one stumble stood out. But he tried to jam so much in that he frequently went too fast, tripped over his words and ran them together in ways that made him hard to follow. Better to have shortened the laundry list and kept it crisp.

Douthat Every moment when the shouty pace of his delivery made his sentences slur together.

Goldberg It’s a tie between Biden’s echo of right-wing language about “an illegal” accused of murder and his flub about cheap prescription drugs in Moscow.

Paul Despite a House ban on hats dating to 1837 (amended in 2019 for religious reasons), Marjorie Taylor Greene wore a MAGA hat and a T-shirt cynically emblazoned with “Say her name” and “Laken Riley,” in reference to a student killed in Georgia two weeks ago whom Republicans have used as a symbol of the border crisis. Her disrespect was surpassed only by J.D. Vance, who boycotted the speech.

Stack In his speech, Biden laid out his plans for his proposed Gaza port, a cumbersome project expected to take weeks to build. It is an embarrassing and outrageous admission that, despite America’s outsize role in funding and enabling this war, his administration can’t even cajole Israel into letting enough aid pass by land to starving civilians.

Stephens That persistent cough. The Jewish mother in me worries.

Wallace-Wells For me, it was when Biden referred to “an illegal.” There may not be much, if any, political price to pay for it, but it’s awful to see an American president who wants to present himself as a figure of compassion casually fall into language designed to demonize and dehumanize.

Appelbaum My favorite State of the Union tradition is when the president declares that the state of the union is “strong.” President Ronald Reagan introduced the adjective in 1983, and presidents have been using it ever since. Biden did not disappoint.

Bouie The most important thing about this State of the Union was not the content but the delivery. Biden was combative, energized and feisty — and partisan. He delivered a strong speech well, a few stumbles notwithstanding. The entire performance seemed geared toward proving that his age was no issue, and I think he was successful.

Collins Really did sound like a man of the people — particularly the middle-class people. Tax the rich!

Cottle He went all in on the gently mocking humor. He poked fun at himself, including his advanced age, and he teased Republicans repeatedly. “If any of you don’t want that money in your districts,” he said of the infrastructure bill that they had voted against, “just let me know.”

Douthat A great many people are going to talk themselves into believing that this was a good speech, a real barnburner. That happy talk will be good for Biden; he needs stiffened spines. But it wasn’t actually a good speech; it was a rant that offered little to the disillusioned, and any boost will be ephemeral.

Goldberg What an unexpectedly rousing speech! Good for Biden for going straight at the existential threat Trump poses to American democracy. Yes, he stumbled over his words a few times, but watching the president parry surly Republicans, I felt momentarily less terrified about his re-election campaign.

Paul The bar here was low: All Biden had to do was drive home that one candidate’s old and sane is better than another’s old and crazy. With the predictable line “The state of our union is strong and getting stronger,” Biden conveyed he is still capable of vision, conviction and strength.

Stack With more than 30,000 dead, a looming famine and unambiguous protests from within his own party, Biden absolutely owed Americans a more direct explanation for his continued support for the onslaught on Gaza.

Stephens A forceful, nimble speech that will dispel any lingering doubts about Biden’s nomination. He framed the stakes in the election: democracy or dictatorship, freedom of choice or denial of it, freedom from fear versus indifference to safety. Where has this Joe Biden been hiding these past three years?

Wallace-Wells I love that Shawn Fain was there, that he raised his fist in the air and that Biden bragged about having been the first president to stand on a picket line.

Jamelle Bouie, Gail Collins, Ross Douthat, Michelle Goldberg, Pamela Paul and Bret Stephens are Times columnists. Binyamin Appelbaum is a member of the editorial board. Michelle Cottle is a domestic correspondent. Megan K. Stack is a contributing Opinion writer. David Wallace-Wells is an Opinion writer.

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