Heckling & Unclear Goals at the State of the Union


President Joe Biden wrestled political controversies at the State of the Union. (Courtesy of Instagram)

The State of the Union is an event that allows Congress and the President to come together and set an understanding for the legislative agenda for the year. However, many are questioning the productivity of President Joe Biden’s most recent address. After watching, listening and reading the address, it is the nation’s understanding that Biden was right to call out Republicans at the State of the Union, and Republicans were equally justified in responding to his callouts. However, this does not excuse the partisan divides that were made apparent throughout the evening or the childish finger-pointing that was put on display.

Presidents going farther back than Woodrow Wilson in the 1910s have delivered a State of the Union in person to Congress, and many since have used it as an opportunity to not only present their platform, but to use it as the perfect time to utilize the bully pulpit and call out political rivals to their faces. However, this time the tradition blew up in Biden’s face. 

At the State of the Union, Biden spoke on topics that fuel our nation’s pride. From the 10 million Americans who have applied to start new small businesses to the countless Americans whose healthcare costs will be eased by the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden championed much under his leadership.

Oddly enough, he seized an opportunity amidst his victory lap and accused Republicans of wanting to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits to those Americans who depend on monthly checks and government help to get by. But the kicker was not only that he had zero legislation come to his desk from Republicans in Congress about Social Security or Medicare cuts, or that as a first term senator from Delaware he tried to sunset Social Security and Medicare cuts, but that certain members of Congress stood up and threw his words back at him and called him a “liar.” 

Prominent member of the House and far-right extremist Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) took offense to Biden calling out her Republican colleagues and shouted multiple times at Biden. Appearing to possess a particular attitude towards Biden’s remarks before he even gave them, she was seen on social media platforms donning a white balloon in the halls of Congress before the affair, an action that was intended to mock Biden’s handling of the recent shooting-down of the Chinese spy balloon. Though it was not only Greene who outwardly expressed her bias against Biden, as other members of the Republican caucus whose outward disapproval throughout the evening, such as laughter at Biden’s statements or shaking of the head, display a large-scale Republican disapproval of Biden’s statements and his administration on the whole.

This issue of finger-pointing is far deeper than how it might originally present itself. Though Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has assured that such cuts Biden accused Republicans of wanting will not occur, his inability, yet again, to corral his caucus, and this time hear out the president, represents a larger issue in our constitutional republic: the issue of partisan decency and respect across the aisle. For a long time, we have seen the mainstream media transform this honest and positively-natured exchange between the executive and the legislative into a circus. Former President Donald J. Trump had to outdo former President Barack Obama and lay out larger and bolder plans in his addresses, and the same goes for Biden’s attitude toward the event. However, Biden heckling his hecklers earlier this month is not a display of attempting to craft policy across the aisle, but was an attempt to outdo predecessors, namely Trump, but is an example of devolving into the very thing he promised his voters he wouldn’t become. 

Not being a brutish crybaby is something that Biden ran on in 2020 and is something he will likely champion in the 2024 contest. Though his track record on the topic isn’t the best, one example being a blunder on the 2020 campaign trail where he called a voter in New Hampshire a “lying dog-faced pony soldier,” his State of the Union ran smoother than previous ones. Despite the back and forth with Greene, Biden’s State of the Union lacked many qualities that were common under Trump, namely making remarks that might lead to the Speaker of the House shredding their copy of the speech; as did former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in 2020. 

To be clear, this affair is a rare opportunity where the President of the United States is able to lay out his checklist for the nation in front of the elected officials that will be able to deliver his wants to his desk in the form of legislation. But by calling out Republicans, especially those in the House who control the government’s budget, what does Biden hope to accomplish? This question is made relevant when put into the lens of where Biden stems his claims from, being based off of stale claims Biden took out of context from Republicans, namely Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), from 10 or more years ago on different conditions and conversations occurring in America. Taking a step away from Congress, many in their workplaces who might have had a difficult coworker or boss know that they’d be less likely to approach or work with those they have troubles with if they are constantly berated by said individuals. The same goes for Biden towards Republicans and the Republican response to Biden, as very few people walked away from this event and had strong opinions of our government’s ability to operate productively. As a matter of fact, as of this past January, Congress’s approval rating was at an astounding 21%, which is sure to fall further into teens as the political divide in Washington continues and was displayed in Biden’s speech. 

Like the State of the Union, Congress is supposed to be a hallowed space and opportunity for positive change. Unfortunately, both sides are to blame for this faulty understanding if this public display is how governing truly happens in D.C. and how we should expect our nation to operate. 

Republicans and Biden walked away from the State of the Union Address hyper-focused on the partisan tensions stemming from the event and has shifted focus away from the change that Biden came to Congress bartering for.

Since the address, mainstream outlets haven’t been focusing on the initiatives Biden laid out in his address, such as building an economy that works for everyone and invitations to the Republican Party to help craft such a state, but have been highlighting the fireworks of the evening: yelling and childish finger pointing. 

To his credit, Biden boldly stepped up to the plate of today’s ecosystem of politics, but fell into the pitfall that he tends to put down. In this fight, there were no winners and the political divide only widened. Because of today’s politics and historical precedent of the event, he was justified in saying all he did, but moreover, he was equally justified in defending his position on the spot. Additionally, according to the social rules of today’s politics, members of the Republican caucus in Congress were right in being expressive and yelling in defense of the accusations thrown their way, despite their immature response to Biden’s callouts. However, it is undeniable that the tensions and actions revolving around the event, before, after and during, prove once again that our elected officials will cheap-out on decency, namely improving their constituencies through bipartisan efforts, due to their focus on politically hardened grudges and obtaining the spotlight.

Michael Duke, GSB ’26, is undecided from Scottsdale, Ariz.