OPINION: The State of Joe Biden is…alive and kicking.

Not so long ago, the word on the street was that President Joe Biden was so infirm and decrepit that he was hardly able to tie his own shoelaces, let alone run the country.

And it’s true that Biden is visibly older than he was three years ago. Clips of confused moments from press conferences haven’t helped. But the truly bottom-of-the-barrel expectations for Biden’s State of the Union Speech Thursday night were set by Republicans.

Donald Trump has played an entire video montage at his rallies portraying “Sleepy Joe” as a full-time, bumbling mess. One clip of Biden tripping up the steps of Air Force One was played on a loop. If Biden makes it up a set of stairs or eats solid food, it would be an achievement by Trump’s telling.

“Does anybody think he’s going to make it to the starting gate?” Trump likes to ask at his rallies. “I mean the guy can’t find his way off of a stage…where am I?!” he jokes, as he mimics Biden wandering aimlessly.

So intense was the speculation about Biden’s health this fall that a Republican congressman from Colorado, Ken Buck, introduced a formal resolution to have Biden removed from office by the Cabinet under the 25th Amendment. He cited the president’s “apparent cognitive decline and lack of mental stamina.”

Last month, New York Times columnist Ezra Klein sketched out a plan for Democrats to kick Biden off the Democratic ticket this summer at the party’s convention. It’s not that he has it in for Biden, Klein explained. In fact, “My heart breaks a bit for Joe Biden,” he wrote.

Into this den of low expectations came Biden this week, supposedly half dead and, just as important, atop a Democratic party full of voters feeling something between apathy and pity for the president — anything but enthusiasm at the thought of voting for him again.

But the doddering commander-in-chief Trump, Klein and Buck described did not show up to the State of the Union on Thursday, where the president was so lancing and acerbic in his takedowns that Republicans complained he was too loud, too mean, and “weirdly amped up.

“Oh, you don’t like that bill, huh?” Biden taunted GOP members, who sat stone-faced through each policy the president praised, including once-core GOP principles like standing up to Russian aggression and defending European democracy.

The reviews for Biden, low expectations and all, were strong, among the Democrats he needed to impress.

Knowing that anybody can give one good speech, I went to Biden’s rally in Atlanta on Saturday for a second wellness check.

After seeing Biden speak at Pullman Yards, I can report first-hand that Biden is still alive and kicking. Not only did he have a pulse, which some detractors had put into doubt, but he also had a broad smile, ad-libbed one-liners, and was cheered on by Democrats breathing a gigantic sigh of relief that the Biden they elected in 2020 mostly looks like the one campaigning for 2024.

“I’ve been around a day or two,” Biden said, adding with a laugh, “I know I don’t look it.”

He was even more aggressive toward Trump than he had been during Thursday’s address. Instead of calling Trump “my predecessor,” Biden called him out by name and listed the many ways he said Trump would take the country backward if elected again.

“Donald Trump says if he gets elected he’ll stop it,” Biden said of his student loan relief program. “Let me tell you something, he won’t stop me.”

When Biden did stumble over a name, calling Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens “Andre Dickenson,” he stopped himself, joked he’d given the mayor an extra syllable, and moved on. Business as usual.

The people in the audience cheering like mad were mostly loyal Democrats, hand-picked by the Biden campaign to be there. But it had not been a given that those loyalists would come out for the president. Biden seemed to turn a corner on that question last week as well.

Frances Christian, the chairwoman of the Dawson County Democrats, went to Atlanta to see him speak and called Biden’s State of the Union address one of the best speeches she’s ever heard. “Oh my god, he was awesome. He rocked it,” said Christian. “Literally, when people talk about his age and how old he is, he just proved he’s fabulous.”

Georgia’s U.S. senators, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, were also in Atlanta for Biden. The two Democrats have worked assiduously to show off their bipartisan records since getting elected with Biden in 2020. But in Atlanta, they told the crowd they needed to get out the vote in Georgia to get the president reelected.

“When you think about this election,” Warnock said, “Think about the world, and then think about the challenges, and then think about the alternative.”

In Ossoff’s words, “President Biden’s predecessor poses a clear and present danger to the rule of law in this country and to our Constitution.”

Will Biden’s good run last? We don’t know. But after last week’s speeches, we can probably put the 25th Amendment away for now. And the Democrats’ convention to nominate Biden this summer looks safe, too. Klein, who suggested a party coup at the convention, declared Biden’s speech “a comeback.”

Donald Trump’s “Sleepy Joe” is wide awake. The 2024 election has begun.