Winners and Losers in Biden’s State of the Union Address

Winners and Losers in Biden’s State of the Union Address March 9, 2024

 

 

 

 

 

Winners

  • Unions
  • Public teachers
  • People with student loan debt
  • People on prescription medications
  • Medical researchers
  • Weapons manufacturers
  • Potato chip lovers

Losers

  • Large corporations
  • Children conceived with disabilities
  • Asylum seekers
  • People living in war zones

 

It’s been said that the moral measure of society is how it treats its most vulnerable members. (Versions of this have been traced to Mohandas Gandhi, Hubert Humphrey and others, but the exact origin is contested.) By this measure, the vision of American society President Biden put forth in this year’s State of the Union Address was on some points at least a qualified success, and on others a catastrophic moral failure.

The first five categories I’ve listed of people whom Biden advocated for bear varying degrees of vulnerability or advocate for people who do. This is probably most true of people who rely on prescription medication for chronic health conditions. But when their conditions are diagnosed in utero, they are singled out for elimination, their treatable conditions misleadingly portrayed as inevitable death sentences, their very elimination becoming emblematic of rights under threat.

Yesterday’s anomalous fetuses (those whose lives have been spared) are today’s long-term health care patients. At what point do they become worthy of quality health care and affordable medicine? Only when they become “consumers” or “taxpayers” – humans whose existence is translatable into monetized terms?

Speaking of monetization, it’s all well and good to ask that large corporations and wealthy individuals pay their fair share in taxes. But as long as those taxes are disproportionately spent on the military-industrial complex rather than on meeting basic human needs, corporations that profit from weapons production have those tax dollars funneled right back to them.

And speaking of weapons, the latter two of the above categories of humans whom Biden threw under the bus – asylum-seekers and those endangered by war – inevitably overlap. If U.S. politicians want to reduce the number of people entering the country to claim asylum, they should start by reducing global U.S. military presence and weapons transfers: in short, stop feeding the violence that people are fleeing from.

Yesterday’s war victims (those whose lives have been spared) are today’s asylum-seekers and refugees. At what point do they become worthy of the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that the Declaration of Independence asserted to be self-evidently universal human rights? Only when they become naturalized citizens and thus attain political value by their ability to vote?

Some might pounce on the phrasing of the above moral measure to object that either noncitizens in general or undocumented immigrants in particular are not actually members of society. Others might say the same about humans in the embryonic or fetal stages of development. Such objections are exactly why these categories of human beings are among the most vulnerable in the first place: they exist on the margins of society, to the point of being judged unqualified to be counted within it, whether by virtue of being unborn or undocumented. For Christians, it’s a self-justifying loophole that calls to mind the question famously asked of Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” (cf. Luke 10:29)

Perhaps the biggest loser in Biden’s speech, then, is the faith he claims (when convenient) to profess. I hasten to add, I am not in any way suggesting that Biden (or anyone else in public office) should use his office to privilege Christian individuals or institutions – which would violate both the U.S. Constitution and the Christian principle of kenosis (self-emptying, cf. Philippians 2). What I am suggesting is that if he is a Christian, he has a moral obligation to show love for his neighbors in what he personally professes to believe, including in public, and including his unborn and immigrant neighbors, however politically inconvenient they may be.

Or at the very least, to refrain from showing outright hate toward them.

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