An Unusually Vigorous Biden Seemed Clever in Using the Verbal Challenges To Nail the Opposition Down
With the partisan smoke the skirmish from the State of the Union passed, can we ask: What was gained by the petulance of heckling by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and various others who felt obliged to shout invectives during Joe Biden’s speech?
The outbursts failed as an effective “talk back to power” move and reflected Republican opponents as a bunch of spoiled brats who haven’t learned their manners. Like me, those watching must have been wondering what the impertinent were seeking to achieve through interruption.
If anything, you might think that a “conservative” approach might be to show respect for the office but the political iron fist behind the legislative political back-and-forth. During Biden’s speech, we seem to have achieved the opposite. House Republicans are all talk and then disfunction. Of course, many of those heckling still don’t acknowledge that Biden ever was elected as president.
Commentators from across the political spectrum gave the nod to Biden for responding to heckling with adroitness that they doubted Biden possessed.
On a policy level, an unusually vigorous Biden seemed clever in using the verbal challenges to nail the opposition down on any efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare spending. On a political level, Biden all but used his cantankerous, if optimistic and look-ahead speech to guarantee that he will be seeking reelection at age 82.
Certainly, the antics from the heckling and response likely took away a lot of negotiating room from Speaker Kevin McCarthy in challenging Democratic spending plans and the required raising of the pending debt ceiling. If anything, Biden’s maneuvering with hecklers turned up the heat on his opponents to identify exactly what they do want to cut – if they have agreement in their own caucus.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the new, Republican governor of Arkansas and designated Republican responder for the night, called the political divide a choice between “normal” and “crazy,” meaning her party’s programs and those of Democrats. The heckling by Greene and others ironically suggested the opposite sides of that proposition.
What Was Missing?
There was plenty to critique in Biden’s remarks. In his self-review of achievements, Biden was unsurprisingly light on the misses. In a world in which winning is everything, there’s no gain in seeming as if you are knocking yourself.
Biden tried to skip around the chaos on the Southern border by stressing only that it is a work in progress from global covid. Where was the challenge to iron out a new effort on immigration? Biden never mentioned the perceptions that serious crime is rising nationwide. And he dismissed any dispute or question over plans for defending Ukraine and foreign policy generally in a couple of sentences, even as opponents mock him over China policy.
Biden did spend time talking about policing, but never laid out a way to get around the opposition to adopting the George Floyd policing bill. We know that voting rights legislation is off the table because of the split in Congress, but that needn’t have stopped Biden from addressing it. He was direct about banning assault weapons, which has no chance of passing.
One could listen to this speech and never understand that this country is coming apart at the seams over culture wars from abortion to race and identity. Or that we will be spending months now listening to endless re-investigations of previous investigations and decisions.
There was no talk about the “weaponization” charged around administration of Justice, or the changes and confusions being spawned by a Supreme Court conservative majority that wants to reset settled law.
Biden made Jan. 6 and the future of American democracy a topic, but curiously not with forceful legislation.
No one State of the Union speech can cover it all, although Biden’s judgment that the state of the union is “strong” when so many people are so upset over so many different aspects of daily life seems a missed diagnosis.