For most of this century, States of the Union (SOTU) have shown anything but unity, instead bringing real-time demonstrations of the deep disunion that exists among some many U.S. political leaders.
Displays of bad manners have become common, breaking the traditional respect afforded to presidents as they deliver the SOTU,
Some politicians have heckled presidents, others have refused to stand when presidents entered the House chamber, a speaker of the House tore up a copy of President Trump’s speech, a Supreme Court justice mouthed “not true” as President Obama spoke in 2010, lawmakers have skipped the address in protest, and opposition politicians usually appear to have their butts superglued to their seats when a president of the other party is at the podium.
At times, the 2022 SOTU provided a departure from those demonstrations of disunity. Bipartisanship and applause from both sides of the aisle were the rule rather than the exception when President Biden spoke of Ukraine, progress in emerging from the COVID pandemic, and funding the police.
However, extremist politicians couldn’t leave well enough alone. They repeatedly sounded discordant notes rejected by the majority of the country. In so doing, they proved that Americans deserve better than “The Squad” on the left and what I’ll call “The Gang” on the right.
The GOP’s “Gang”
Among the right’s favorite targets are the left-wing Democrats who are members of “The Squad.” But the outrageous behavior of some of extremist Republicans needs to be called out as well, as it was on full display during the SOTU.
The picture above tells much of the story. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado behaved like rowdy teenagers, interrupting and heckling President Biden.
MTG, despite little more than a year in Congress, already has a long record of bad behavior and absurd comments. That includes her appearance on Friday, Feb. 25, at the America First Political Action Conference, a group described by the ADL as “white supremacist” and “white nationalist.” Also appearing there was Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona. As I wrote earlier this month, Former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed them for “associating with antisemitic neo-Nazis,” and Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah referred to them as “Morons. I’ve got morons on my team.”
Again, Romney put it best. “We typically sit with respect for the president regardless of their party,” he said. “Yelling out accusations … it’s just really repugnant and repulsive.”
We were spared any misbehavior from Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri, because he sat out the SOTU. Why? He refused to be tested for COVID. Hawley, who’s been called the “dumbest guy” in the Senate by “Morning Joe,” was behind the Electoral College challenge that led to the attack on the Capitol. Former GOP Missouri Senator John Danforth said, “Supporting Josh [Hawley] ... was the worst mistake I ever made in my life.”
Others in “The Gang” include Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona (described by the Arizona Republic as having a “long history on conservatism’s fringes,” and by the Blog for Arizona as “drinking from the Kool Aid for stupid people”); Rep. Louis Gohmert of Texas (who’s been mocked for recognizing that people think he’s “the dumbest guy in Congress”); and Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida (who is under investigation in a sex scandal, has made his fair share of controversial statements, and invited an infamous alt-right internet troll accused of Holocaust denial to a prior SOTU).
All these people have been elected. Some have even been reelected numerous times. It boggles the mind.
The Democrats’ “Squad”
The Democrats' so-called Squad is doing its best to keep up with the Gang's disconnect with the American people. The Squad now includes six House members, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Cori Bush of Missouri, and Jamaal Bowman of New York.
At least three of those members (AOC, Omar, and Bush) reportedly stayed seated during the bipartisan standing ovation Biden received when he promised to increase funding for police. No wonder, given that he expressly criticized a pet cause of the Squad when he said, “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to FUND the police with the resources and training they need to protect our communities.”
In what Bush described in a tweet as her “State of the Union fit,” she even shouted and pointed to her shirt.
The Squad seems set on ignoring that Americans agree with Biden. Only 15% of Americans want less spending on police in their area, according to a Pew Research survey released last fall. That's not surprising because the murder rate in the U.S. spiked by almost 30% in 2020, contemporaneously with the birth of the “defund the police” movement. Murders ticked up again in 2021, according to analysis from the Council of Criminal Justice.
Polls also showed that most viewers approved of Biden’s speech, but that wasn’t good enough for the Squad. Speaking on behalf of the Working Families Party, Tlaib delivered a progressive response to the SOTU. She diverged from the president on funding police and climate change, while also attacking “Democratic obstructionists,” for not allowing the passage of Biden’s Build Back Better plan.
My analysis of recent Gallup polling confirms that, indicating that a majority of Americans are somewhere in the center of the political spectrum (between center left and center right), if you add up those identifying as moderates among Independents, Republicans, and Democrats. That is especially true if you add those who identify as liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats.
The Gang and the Squad appeal to a small minority of Americans. They just proved why at the State of the Union.
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Cover photo: Members of the so-called "Squad" conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, D.C. responding to negative comments by President Trump that were directed at the freshman House Democrats on July 15, 2019. From left, Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Rashida Tlaib. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images)