Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter expressed my reaction to President Joe Biden’s speech to Congress. No boasting. No narcissism. A strong assertion that government must work for the people and use its resources to improve the lives of the people.

The most abnormal thing about Biden’s speech, however, was how normal it was. After four years of Donald Trump spewing his particular brand of dyspeptic, self-absorbed oratory, it felt a bit unfamiliar, and a bit exhilarating, watching Biden calmly discuss the challenges and the opportunities facing the nation, and discuss how he proposed to confront the one and exploit the other. A sense of déjà vu does not usually mix with the emotions kindled by promise, but when they do, the experience is centering. The speech felt like the country was getting back to normal. 

The United States, in normal, pre-Trump times, believed democracy worked. Regrettably, Ronald Reagan pitted democracy against government, and set the terms of public policy for 40 years. The pandemic brought into sharp relief what had long been obvious to those of us schooled in Catholic social doctrine: Reaganism hollowed out the government’s ability to achieve its foremost objective, the common good. 

But, the will of the people continued to voice skepticism about government overreach and the most memorable line from a State of the Union speech by the first Democratic president after Reagan, Bill Clinton, had the flavor of capitulation: “The era of big government is over.”

Biden announced that government focused on the common good was back and that the democratically expressed will of the people insisted on a more activist government.