Former Obama strategist David Axelrod advises Biden to show 'humility' and 'proceed with caution' at the State of the Union

Former Obama strategist David Axelrod advises Biden to show 'humility' and 'proceed with caution' at the State of the Union
President Joe Biden speaks about prescription drug costs at the Daniel Technology Center of Germanna Community College – Culpeper Campus, Thursday, Feb. 10, 2022, in Culpeper, Va.Alex Brandon/AP
  • David Axelrod is advising Biden to show "humility" in his first State of the Union speech.
  • Biden, he wrote, risks taking a victory lap without recognizing Americans' continued struggles.

Former President Barack Obama's longtime advisor-turned-pundit David Axelrod has a word of advice for President Joe Biden: be humble.

Biden is slated to deliver his first official State of the Union address to Congress and the nation on Tuesday, March 1. (He last delivered an address before a joint session of Congress in April 2021).

In a New York Times op-ed published on Monday titled "Mr. President, It's Time for a Little Humility," Axelrod declared that the state of the union is "stressed" — and warned Biden not to sugarcoat or gloss over the prolonged strain the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted on Americans' lives.

Axelrod criticized Biden's January 19 news conference marking his first anniversary in office for focusing too much on his administration's successes, including overseeing the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines and passing the American Rescue Plan and a landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill through Congress, without acknowledging Americans' struggles.

Biden, he wrote, "got the emphasis and proportions wrong, spending more time pitching his successes and touting progress than he did recognizing the grinding concerns that have soured the mood of the country."


Biden and his team, Axelrod said, may be tempted to take a similar victory lap at the State of the Union. Axelrod, however, advised Biden to "proceed with caution."

"Talk about the things you and Congress have done to help meet the challenges Americans are facing, for sure. Lay out your goals for the future, absolutely. Offer realistic hope for better days ahead. We desperately need it," he said.

"But," Axelrod added, "recognize that we are still in the grips of a national trauma. Polls show that the vast majority of Americans believe we are on the wrong track, and people will have little patience for lavish claims of progress that defy their lived experiences."

Biden has struggled with poor approval ratings for virtually his entire time in office. Americans disapproved of his performance by a margin of over 11 points on net in FiveThirtyEight's average of Biden approval polls.

Axelrod cited the continued toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, school closures, and crime as factors collectively stressing and demoralizing Americans — and leaving them disillusioned with the current administration.


Indeed, a January NBC News poll found that 72% of Americans believe the country is "headed in the wrong direction," 60% think their family's income isn't keeping up with the costs of living, and 70% have little faith in Americans' ability to come together and unite.

The pandemic is now dragging into its third year, leaving over 900,000 Americans dead, children missing out from valuable time in the classroom, and healthcare providers and other frontline workers burnt out and at their breaking point.

And while the economy is bouncing back from the worst of the pandemic, inflation and high gas prices are eating up many Americans' paychecks. Rising levels of violent crime and high rates of drug overdose deaths in many parts of the country, Axelrod argued, reflect the long-term societal damage of the pandemic and prolonged societal isolation.

A recent CNN/SRSS poll found that three-quarters of Americans described themselves as "burned out" by COVID, with 60% angry, 58% worried, and 49% confused about the current state of the pandemic.

Even if the Omicron variant continues to recede by March 1, Axelrod wrote, "The nation likely will still be in a funk, and its people will want to hear their president recognize why."