7 Notes on Top Night for Political Communications

NRB | March 8, 2024 | Advocacy, Advocacy News

On Thursday, March 7, President Joseph R. Biden delivered the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, watched on broadcast and online platforms by millions of Americans.

Here are several takeaways from the night’s key moments and messages.

Ukraine gets top billing 

To open his State of the Union address, Biden opted to lead not with a domestic issue, but with an international one. Noting that “history is watching,” Biden asserted that redoubling U.S. aid could empower Ukraine to prevail in its war with Russia. Lawmakers and analysts have increasingly questioned this position in light of manpower and weaponry shortages and the limitations of the U.S. defense-industrial base. Biden avoided defining a favorable outcome, but warned of “risk” to U.S. leadership, Europe, and the free world if Congress does not authorize additional aid to Ukraine.

Key quotes:

  • “Assistance for Ukraine is being blocked by those who want us to walk away from our leadership in the world.”
  • “Ukraine can stop Putin if we stand with Ukraine and provide the weapons it needs to defend itself. That is all Ukraine is asking.”

In the audience, various flags and cultural garments were on display, as one Democratic member of Congress wore the flag of Ukraine draped over his shoulders and other members wore the symbolic Palestinian keffiyeh as scarves and shawls to signal various affinities.

Other words for “abortion”

Maintaining and expanding the availability of abortion in America was a centerpiece of the State of the Union address and remains central to the Biden policy agenda and political strategy in the 2024 election, although the word “abortion” was used only once. 

Key quotes:

  • “My predecessor came to office determined to see Roe v. Wade overturned. He’s the reason it was overturned. In fact, he brags about it.”
  • “If Americans send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you, I will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again.”
  • Biden recognized guest Kate Cox, the Texas mother who left the state to obtain an abortion after her unborn child received a life-limiting Trisomy-18 diagnosis. 

Biden’s overall commitment to abortion, described in terms like “reproductive freedom,” is an inescapable feature of his vision for America’s future. This general language allows abortion proponents to claim other family and parenthood issues, such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment, under the “reproductive freedom” umbrella, as Biden did on Thursday evening.

Everything connects to January 6

Biden propelled several dissimilar policy topics, including foreign aid and IVF treatment, with references to January 6, noting that “history is watching, just like history watched three years ago on January 6th.” In Biden’s rhetoric, January 6 is an unambiguous symbol of evil that is juxtaposed with other issues and policies to override dissent. 

Key quotes:

  • “Insurrectionists stormed this very Capitol and placed a dagger at the throat of American democracy.”
  • “January 6th and the lies about the 2020 election, and the plots to steal the election, posed the gravest threat to our democracy since the Civil War.”
  • “Political violence has absolutely no place in America. History is watching. And history is watching another assault on freedom . . . Guarantee the right to IVF nationwide!”

Biden “says her name” – almost 

Biden chastised Republicans for not approving bipartisan border legislation, which House conservatives have opposed as inadequate and ineffectual. Some Republican members sported pins with the name “Laken Riley” or the slogan “say her name” to draw attention to the recent slaying of the 22-year-old nursing student, suspected to have been murdered by a migrant who was granted parole under Biden administration policies. Biden made off-the-cuff remarks about Riley, which were not included in his written remarks, but mispronounced her name and quickly moved on.

Key quote:

  • “Lincoln, Lincoln Riley. An innocent young woman who was killed by an illegal. But how many of thousands of people [are] being killed by legals?”

Biden aides and allies rushed to clean up his language and express that Biden should not have used the term “illegal” to describe the illegal immigrant charged with murdering Laken Riley.

Mixed messages on Israel

In discussing Israel’s war with Hamas, Biden acknowledged several Hamas hostage family members who were present at the Capitol. Biden placed blame for loss of life at the feet of both the Israeli government and Hamas, and announced plans for a U.S. military-established pier in the Mediterranean to import aid to Gaza. The President touted his “lifelong” support of Israel, although Biden’s diplomatic relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is notably strained. 

Key quotes:

  • “Israel has a right to go after Hamas. Hamas could end this conflict today by releasing the hostages, laying down arms, and surrendering those responsible for October 7th. Israel has an added burden because Hamas hides and operates among the civilian population. But Israel also has a fundamental responsibility to protect innocent civilians in Gaza.”
  • “Tonight, I’m directing the U.S. military to lead an emergency mission to establish a temporary pier in the Mediterranean on the Gaza coast that can receive large ships carrying food, water, medicine and temporary shelters.”
  • “As we look to the future, the only real solution is a two-state solution.” 
  • Biden, on a hot CSPAN mic after his address: “I told him, [Netanyahu], and don’t repeat this, but you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting.”

Hamas is currently holding six American citizens hostage among 134 hostages believed to be held in captivity in Gaza overall. 

“Official” response is one of many

Delivering the official response to the State of the Union for the Republicans was Sen. Katie Britt (R-Ala.) who claimed that, under Biden, “the American dream has turned into a nightmare.” 

What may have overshadowed Britt’s remarks: Her intonation, which struck many viewers as over-the-top and theatrical as she delivered her response from a kitchen table.

What certainly overshadowed Britt’s remarks: Numerous other highly-watched responses and rebuttals from political celebrities and media stars on digital platforms, including Tucker Carlson and independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

The State of the Union address places the importance of speech, stories, and symbols in public life on full display, offering visibility to the beliefs and priorities of those in elected and appointed office. It also highlights the evolving roles of broadcast media and digital platforms in the public’s perception of (and participation in) the most influential moments in political communications. This critical year in the life of our nation is a rich moment of opportunity for Christians in broadcast media—and a crucial time to exercise moral clarity and commitment to the truth.

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