Biden’s not really going to claim that the state of the union is strong tonight, is he?

It’s a perfunctory applause line at these things, sure. But it’s so glaringly untrue in 2022 that to say it even half-heartedly would make this dismal spectacle seem more dishonest than usual. The country’s just experienced a second year of mass death from COVID, inflation on a scale we haven’t felt in decades, and is momentarily staring at the prospect of nuclear war with a disjointed lunatic in Moscow. Cultural and policy divisions between the American left and right have rarely been more bitter.

The state of the union isn’t great. It’s not terrific.

But Biden did catch a break with the timing here. The state of the union among Americans is poor but the state of the union between America and its European allies is surprisingly strong, more so than it’s been in years. The president will deliver this address at a moment when one of our traditional rivals is being routed strategically on all fronts, thanks in part to some shrewd diplomacy by the White House. Biden gets a precious opportunity tonight to project strength in front of a huge audience and he’s taking advantage:

A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have expected his first official SOTU to begin with rousing bipartisan cheers in the chamber. But that’s where we’re headed tonight.

He’s benefiting from fortuitous timing in another way. According to the NYT’s COVID tracker, the daily average in cases today is lower than it’s been at any point since July 2021. The Omicron wave is completely over; the new baseline has reached pre-Delta levels. That’s convenient for a party that’s now under strict orders from its pollsters to ditch COVID restrictions pronto or else face annihilation at the polls in November. Not only has Pelosi dispensed with the House mask mandate just in time for average-joe voters to tune in tonight, she’s vowing not to wear a mask herself:

That makes no sense. She’s 81. She should be wearing an N95 in a crowded room full of other people, especially with signs of a mini-outbreak under way in Congress. And for all of her professed concern in the clip about her young unvaccinated grandchildren, they’re vastly less likely than Pelosi herself to suffer a severe case if infected. But she knows that she’ll be seated in frame, over Biden’s shoulder, throughout his speech and she can’t resist the political imperative to signal to swing voters that Democrats are no longer being hard-asses about masks. She’s going to take a health risk because, despite all the warnings over the past two years about following the science and practicing smart COVID hygiene, elections matter more. It’s the 2022 equivalent of scientists interrupting their “stay home to protect your community!” warnings two years ago to add “unless you’re protesting racism, in which case feel free to gather in the largest numbers you like.”

Anyhow. Expect Biden to tout the new CDC guidance encouraging Americans to unmask if they’re among the 70 percent who live in counties where hospitals aren’t under strain. Conveniently, that guidance arrived just four days before this plum opportunity to advertise it as proof of Democrats’ chill new outlook on COVID before a national audience. Per CNN, the White House’s new “National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan” will be unveiled in short order tomorrow to keep up the political momentum from this evening’s “our party doesn’t like mandates either” message.

As befits the laundry-list format that every State of the Union speech inevitably devolves into, I assume the Ukraine and COVID material up front will soon give way to Biden reciting the many components of the Build Back Better plan and the Democrats’ federal voting-rights legislation, both of which are effectively defunct but which he’ll want to mention to remind progressives that he still cares even if Joe Manchin doesn’t. One thing to keep an eye on: Will Biden make any new commitments to expanding American energy production? That’s an obvious move to make now that western Europe is in the market for a new supplier of oil and gas but Biden seems too much a prisoner of lefty environmentalists to do something that’s plainly correct on the politics and on the policy.

Tonight’s GOP rebuttal will be delivered by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, whose selection I wrote about here. And tonight’s socialist rebuttal will be delivered by Rashida Tlaib, pissing off every non-socialist in the caucus. It’s thoughtful of her to spend her time this evening producing attack-ad material for Republicans, no?

If you’re not near a TV, you can watch the speech right here. Comments are open.

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