On Leadership, The Times We Live In
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I’ll see you at the ground-breaking

The effective leaders I have worked with all have similar traits. They are good listeners. They are empathetic. They use their own histories and personalities to set an effective narrative around a positive vision. They are quick to praise others and embrace a wide circle. They are forward facing. They are optimistic but practical. They have a sense of humor. Most of all they understand how to meet the moment they are given.

Tuesday evening’s State of the Union address was just another example of how the president personifies those qualities and is meeting the moment.

In America, it is easy to get caught up in the never-ending stream of right-wing grievance. “Inflation! Recession! Balloon! Fentanyl! The Border! Hunter’s laptop! China! CRT! Antifa! Debt!” The media takes the bait and says, “Biden’s achievements are not breaking through to the public!” And they are not breaking through because the media doesn’t want you to know.

The owners of the country’s most lucrative media properties have more in common with the beneficiaries of the status quo than they have in common with you and me and everyone we know on account of their being among those who benefit from the status quo. They dislike inflation…it makes their planetary fortunes worth less.

All the while, President Biden has had one of the most consequential presidencies since FDR and the New Deal. In meeting the moment of our multiple national crises of the looming loss of democracy, heightened domestic terrorism, inflamed racial tensions, environmental degradation, falling international stature, obscene wealth inequality, inequitable application of justice, and loss of fundamental rights for more than one-half of our citizens, he has remained steady, firm, and resolute.

After graciously congratulating both Republican and Democratic members of Congress by name, Biden — unfiltered by the media for 70 minutes — laid out his promise to “continue to rebuild the middle class, hollowed out by 40 years of policies based on the idea that cutting taxes and concentrating wealth among the ‘job creators’ would feed the economy and create widespread prosperity.” He rightly noted that this has created a very biased and rigged system that protects the wealthy.

“Capitalism without competition is not capitalism,” he noted. “It’s extortion. It’s exploitation.”

Biden reminded us of this fact as he drove a stake in the heart of neo-liberalism philosophy that says government should leave the all-wise markets alone.

I’m not a big believer in trickle-down economy, (Biden said) and so everything I look at from the time I took this office, but even before that when I was a senator all those years, is what’s the best shot to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out because when that happens everybody does well. The wealthy do very, very well. 

Historian Heather Cox Richardson notes that the trickle-down theory never worked under Ronald Reagan and it hasn’t worked since. Biden’s vision is proven and invests in all of us.

He listed the accomplishments of his administration so far: unemployment at a 50-year low, 800,000 good manufacturing jobs, lower inflation, 10 million new small businesses, the return of the chip industry to the United States, more than $300 billion in private investment in manufacturing, more than 20,000 new infrastructure projects, lower health care costs, Medicare negotiations over drug prices, investment in new technologies to combat climate change. He promised to continue to invest in the places and people who have been forgotten.

In place of the failed economic policies begun in 1980, Biden sees a “national vision that includes everyone. It is a modernized version of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal.” As historian Eric Rauchway has written,

The New Deal mattered then, at the cusp of spring in 1933, because it gave Americans permission to believe in a common purpose that was not war. Neither before nor since have Americans so rallied around an essentially peaceable form of patriotism. The results of that effort remain with us, in forms both concrete and abstract.

President Biden sees the same need to have Americans believe in a common purpose. And in his address to a joint session of Congress, he repeatedly offered to work across the aisle for a range of widely popular programs with those Republicans who still believe in the American idea of democracy and freedom for all Americans.

In a key moment of setting his own narrative, President Biden thanked those Republicans who voted for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, “then tweaked those who had voted against it but claimed credit for funding.”

Biden said they didn’t have to worry. He had promised to be the president for all Americans, not just those in blue states. “We’ll fund your projects,” he said. Then, with a smile on his face he added the kicker:

And I’ll see you at the ground-breaking.

Joe Biden knows his ideas and plans are popular. Americans understand our roads and bridges are crumbling, and we want them to be fixed. And he knows that Republican members of Congress — who are rewarded for outrage by FOX and other media outlets — will show up at the ground-breaking for infrastructure work, after voting against the funding for those very projects. They’ll take credit to try and fool their constituents.

Mitch McConnell’s appearance at the ground-breaking for the bridge across the Ohio River that will be repaired using union labor by the “Cowboys in the Sky” is just the most obvious example of many.

And then, (Richardson writes) when he began to talk about future areas of potential cooperation, Republicans went feral. They heckled, catcalled, and booed, ignoring House speaker Kevin McCarthy’s (R-CA) attempts to shush them. At the State of the Union, in the U.S. Capitol, our lawmakers repeatedly interrupted the president with insults, yelling “liar” and “bullsh*t.” And cameras caught it all. 

Extremist Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), her hands cupping her wide open mouth to scream at the president, became the face of the Republican Party.

This is NOT what leadership looks like

James Fallows wrote, “Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last night was effective — for him, for his policies, for his party, and I think for the country.”

It’s what leadership looks like.

More to come…


Image of SOTU Address from WhiteHouse.gov

This entry was posted in: On Leadership, The Times We Live In


I am David J. Brown (hence the DJB) and I originally created this personal blog more than ten years ago as a way to capture photos and memories from a family vacation. After the trip was over I simply continued writing. Over the years the blog has changed to have a more definite focus aligned with my interest in places that matter, reading well, roots music, and more. My professional background is as a national nonprofit leader with a four-decade record of growing and strengthening organizations at local, state, and national levels. This work has been driven by my passion for connecting people in thriving, sustainable, and vibrant communities.


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