If you’re a current subscriber, log in below. If you would like to subscribe, please click the subscribe tab above.
Username and Password Help
The president didn’t seem to mind. When Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene couldn’t restrain herself from calling out “liar,” he was ready. When others started booing, he took them on.
The president smiled and veered off his teleprompter. He was at his best. Let Biden be Biden. But what does it say about us?
The British do it this way, I suppose. They’re used to this kind of Parliamentary debate.
I grew up with a different tradition. Respect for the presidency. Civility at important moments. I worked in the Senate in the 1980s. President Ronald Reagan was in office. The thought that someone would boo him in his State of the Union was simply unimaginable. Had it happened, that person would have been scorned. The Democrats would have been ridiculed for failing to show proper respect. Tip O’Neill, then the Democratic speaker, would have none of it. Times were different. In that respect, they were better.
In 2009, when a member interrupted President Barack Obama’s State of the Union to shout him down, saying, “you lie,” it was so shocking that he was censured by the House.
It wasn’t so long ago that a joint session of Congress was a kind of holy occasion, where members were expected to treat the leader of the free world with a modicum of respect, not like the nightly mudslinging on cable news.
There is something that is very sad to me about the denigration of the State of the Union into another occasion for partisan political catfighting at its most childish level, with the people who hold themselves out as the leaders of the greatest democracy on earth behaving like children in kindergarten. In the hallowed halls of the Capitol, they play like naughty children, calling out names, booing and refusing to listen.
But why should we be surprised?
This is what politics has become. The screamers are in charge. Marjorie Taylor Greene is ascendant. The Ronald Reagan/Tip O’Neill tradition is dead.
Of course it’s true that in the morning, the Republicans will work to defeat the Biden agenda. Hopefully, there are at least a few of them who were also elected to accomplish something by searching for common ground, a more difficult but also more rewarding task than just yelling “liar” from the rafters. And hopefully there will be Democrats who will reach out and work with them to do so, so that the legislative process accomplishes more than the cable talk-shows do.
All of that, however, is for the morning after. The question for the State of the Union is whether there is any room left for respect and civility in the business of politics, where we show how we work together even when we disagree on the specifics, where we show the mutual respect we must have, where we set an example for others to follow, of respect and cooperation and not of antagonism and hate.
We don’t need more yelling and screaming. We don’t need more partisan name-calling. It’s cheap. It’s useless. It’s demeaning, an excuse for entertainment. It debases the State of our Union.