The Irish Times view on Joe Biden’s presidency: In need of a reboot

Times of national crisis have in the past seen a rallying to the US president. Not this time

President Joe Biden delivers his State of the Union address. Photograph: Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

When Joe Biden stood up to make his first State of the Union address on Tuesday night the combative US president was on the back foot. His immediate challenges – rallying the nation in support of Ukraine, convincing it "we've reached a new moment in the fight against Covid-19", and regalvanising public opinion in favour of his ambitious $1.8 trillion social and climate spending package, deadlocked still in a bitterly partisan congress – reflect a presidency badly in need of a reboot.

“Let’s use this moment to reset,” he appealed. “So stop looking at Covid as a partisan dividing line. See it for what it is: a God-awful disease.” He could have been speaking of the economy or foreign relations. “Let’s stop seeing each other as enemies and start seeing each other for who we are: fellow Americans”. It was a call that nevertheless fell largely on deaf ears.

Times of national crisis have in the past seen a rallying to the US president. Not this time. A survey from Yahoo News this week found that Donald Trump voters view Biden far more unfavourably (87 per cent) than Vladimir Putin (60 per cent), although the president’s comments castigating the latter did prompt both sides of the aisle to rise to applaud.

Biden’s ratings are poor – according to Gallup, no elected president in modern times had been as low at this point in his tenure, other than Trump. That reality spells trouble in a midterm election year.


But the president has an upbeat story to tell. Despite inflation, he was able to boast about economic growth, job creation, infrastructure investment and wage gains seen on his watch. His “Unity Agenda for the Nation”, including programmes to address the opioid epidemic, mental health, support for veterans, and cancer, has strong bipartisan support across the country.

And the reinvigoration of the unity and determination of allies in Nato and Europe on Ukraine, which Putin has unwittingly engineered, sends a strong message of both Biden's and the US's enhanced standing on the world stage.