We did not elect President Biden because of his ability to give inspiring speeches. In my opinion, we have had only two Presidents, in the last 50 years, who could consistently give inspiring speeches: Reagan and Obama. Bill Clinton sometimes hit the target, but often did not know when to stop talking.
Biden was elected because he was the most centrist of the candidates we had to choose from. He showed glimpses of that centrism in last night’s speech when he abandoned the “defund the police” rhetoric that many in his party embrace and when he attempted to spell out a bipartisan agenda on a few issues. He also reflected, what I believe, are mostly bipartisan views in expressing his contempt for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
There were some understandable disappointments in the speech. I think some people hoped that he might declare a “no fly zone” over Ukraine to deny Russia control of the sky there. I did not think that was likely given the concern about direct conflict with a nuclear power. I do think he could have been clearer to the American people that the alternative to effective sanctions is eventual war with Russia, if not over Ukraine, then over the Baltic members of NATO.
Given the potentially catastrophic costs of that kind of war, the economic costs of effective sanctions on the U.S. and our allies are minor.
While he did mention that we would do what we can to limit the costs of sanctions by, for example, drawing down the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, he could have gone much further and indicated that we would pause our efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels and do what we can to increase our production and export of oil and natural gas. America and our allies have a choice to make: we can confront Russia with effective sanctions, including boycotting Russian gas exports, or we can aggressively fight climate change, but we cannot do both at this moment. That does not mean that we have to abandon long-term targets for developing fossil fuel alternatives, but the use of Russian natural gas to reduce Europe’s carbon footprint needs to be off the table. Europe is much more likely to participate in a boycott of Russian natural gas exports if we cushion the impact by increasing our own exports of oil and gas.