Thomas Graham
Thomas Graham

For speechwriters and communications counselors, the State of the Union is something akin to the Super Bowl for football fans.

And last night's SOTU provided the sort of theater sports fans are used to, but speakers rarely experience—raucous interruptions, jeers and cheers, and competitive back and forth from the podium to the audience.

As for the speech itself, I imagine Democrats gave the speech an A and Republicans a C-minus.

As someone who helps leaders find their inner superpower—their Executive Voice, is what we call it at Crosswind—I’d say the President accomplished his objectives, earning an A.

There were the usual appeals to bipartisanship for the good of the country: “We all agree…” “My Republican friends…” “Together, we can make this happen…” President Biden used this effectively to portray many issues as settled business, in the same way a car dealer uses the “presumptive close”—“Would you like your Corvette to be red, or black?”

For truly contentious issues, such as his proposals for an assault weapons ban and abortion rights laws, he made his statements clearly and without apology or nuance. And moved forward.

Demonizing your opponent by impugning their motives carries risk and requires nuance. Many underestimate Joe Biden and forget his 50 years of political experience.

The president scored both rhetorical and political points when he used the new GOP majority party's various factions and members' ideas against them, and parsed it out in such a way as to create the perception that all the GOP wants to harm a significant voter base—seniors.

Here's how he did it:

"Some of my Republican friends want to take the economy hostage... some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years... Other Republicans say if we don’t cut Social Security and Medicare, they’ll let America default on its debt for the first time in our history.

"I won’t let that happen." A powerful promise which packed a punch.

The President’s accusation brought shouts of "Liar" and other derision from Republicans, an exchange the President seemed to relish taking on.

Speakers, take note: expect hecklers and be prepared to respond.

There has been a significant shift in the rules of public speaking: In September 2009, Congressman Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during President Barack Obama’s first joint address to Congress. At the time, this breach of decorum and tradition was unprecedented—and effective. Wilson’s outburst became the topic, upstaging the President’s healthcare proposals.

Last night, President Biden punched back and pushed forward.

He came across as a fiery, passionate advocate for his party's views rather than the doddering old Uncle Joe unfit for office that "some" suggest. He pushed through the occasional missteps and forgetfulnesses, gracefully covering the moment he forgot the Ukrainian ambassador's name, and he spoke for right at two hours.

The team that prepared him for his delivery deserves praise. I would have cut the entire speech by one-third and made it less broad, but he wasn’t playing to my crowd, he was playing to his. This President was trying to send a message to those within his own party who suggest he should step aside in 2024. Instead, he made a strong case for running again.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the President's performance. It certainly made for dramatic theater.


Thomas Graham is the founder and CEO of Austin, TX-based Crosswind Media & Public Relations.