Former Speechwriters Give Their Grades for Biden's State of the Union: 'Sleepy'


If I were to give President Joe Biden’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday a grade, I’d go with Zzz. As in, it made me want to sleep, with moments of aghast disbelief punctuating the otherwise Unisom-sponsored proceedings.

However, the American A-F grading system doesn’t allow me to go all the way down the alphabet to get to the letter which best sums up the somnolence it induced, for the most part. That didn’t stop Fox News from asking four speechwriters what they thought of the address and forcing them to use the normal grading scale.

Long story short: It didn’t go well for Biden.

First off, the consensus verdict on the State of the Union: “Hanging over Biden’s speech was the recent shooting down of a Chinese spy balloon a few days ago, which has further complicated the already-tense relationship between the U.S. and China,” Fox News noted.

“According to experts, Biden made a good faith effort at promoting bipartisanship, but did not confront the China threat as aggressively as he should have,” the report continued.

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“Many agreed that his speech was a test run for his expected 2024 presidential announcement, but felt sluggish and boring at points.”

To be fair, let’s start with the best grade he got from the four speechwriters: An A from David Litt, senior speechwriter for former President Barack Obama.

“I doubt the MAGA-iest politicians — many of whom watched at home after losing in the midterm elections — will find much to like about this speech. But moderate and independent voters were the ones who delivered big wins for Democrats in November, and this SOTU was for them,” Litt said.

“President Biden earned bipartisan applause for some of his biggest economic and national-security accomplishments, like building new roads and bridges and rebuilding the American semiconductor industry to compete with China,” he added.

Would you give Biden an F?

“He used live TV to put Congressional Republicans on the spot — they’ve now pledged not to cut Medicare or Social Security, giving the White House the early upper hand in any debt-ceiling hostage situation.”.

And, finally, Litt gave high marks for how Biden handled dissidents in the room — he apparently wasn’t watching the same speech I was, but efficacy can oft be in the eye of the beholder — likening it to how the House GOP went through what he called “a publicly embarrassing, tantrum-filled series of votes for speaker.”

“Joe Biden was the quintessential adult in the room. He looked presidential. He made GOP hecklers look foolish,” Litt said. “Start to finish, the commander in chief was in command.”

What counts as adulthood and commanding presence in Litt’s book, ladies and gentlemen:

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The lowest grade came from former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speechwriter David Wilezol, who gave “sleepy” Joe a D.

“State of the Union speeches are almost always boring, but hardly ever has a president said less in more than an hour of speaking than Joe Biden did tonight. While packed with a kitchen sink list of so-called accomplishments that may sell politically, this sleepy address lacked any memorable lines or displays of political courage,” Wilezol said.

“Biden endorsed the exact rote prescription for fixing public education — spending more money in some form or another — that has failed America’s students for decades. If Biden was serious about showing leadership, he would capitalize on growing bipartisan support for school choice instead of regurgitating teachers unions’ talking points.

The two remaining speechwriters gave Biden a C+.

Jonathan Bronitsky, a former chief speechwriter for Bill Barr when he was attorney general, was happy that Biden didn’t demonize “MAGA Republicans,” apparently having “discovered that demonizing half of the citizenry isn’t conducive to bringing people together.”

Much of the speech borrowed themes from former President Donald Trump, Bronitsky said — particularly the first half — he peppered his appeals to Trump’s “forgotten man and woman” remarks. The tone also showed Biden and his team were aware “its zealous enthusiasm for wokeness and other weirdness is alienating large swaths of the American public needed to win a national election.”

“At the same time, it promoted ideas that enjoy buy in from both sides of the aisle, like supporting law enforcement and combating Big Tech’s collection of personal data,” Bronitsky said. “Still, for the most part, the actual policy proposals cut in only one direction: hard left.”

And then there was the fact that Biden seemed to be “going through the motions” just one year before a presidential election.

“Tremendous energy and mental acuity are required to run for the presidency, arguably the most demanding job in the world. In this respect, Biden’s performance was as confidence-inspiring as a pilot who’s just tossed back a bottle of tequila,” he said.

And Rob Noel, another Pompeo speechwriter, called the address “formulaic and forgettable” in his C+ grading.

“He said the right words on bipartisanship and, compared to previous outings, his delivery seemed sincere and energetic. But the rhetoric was a total rehash,” said Noel.

“It was flush with familiar platitudes — ‘bottom up and middle out,’ ‘pay your fair share’ — and lacked a strong sense of voice. Presidents Obama and Trump gave SOTU addresses that were unique to them, that only they could have delivered. President Biden’s are like mediocre pop music: sometimes catchy but mostly formulaic and forgettable,” he added.

Of course, if you didn’t fall asleep or get bored by the platitudes, there were plenty of falsehoods that even liberal fact-checkers couldn’t ignore or strange gaffes that had viewers scratching their heads:

It’s little surprise, then, that Biden’s 2023 State of the Union got the lowest “very positive” rating from a post-speech CNN survey since 1998’s speech, a quarter-century ago. (That speech, it’s worth noting, was also delivered just days after the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke, so timing — rather than content — may have been responsible for the low “very positive” rating then.)

The bad news is that, if you never miss a State of the Union, you’re going to have to sit through another one of these improbably sleepy speeches, punctuated by strange gaffes and outright lies.

The good news is that, if the lack of energy Biden evinced Tuesday night is any indication of how he’ll perform on the 2024 campaign trail, it’ll likely be the last State of the Union he ever gives.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture