On Tuesday night, President Joe Biden delivered his second State of the Union address. Last year 38 million people tuned in; this year, around 27 million people heard (and saw) a lot. Hopefully, those millions of Americans learned a thing or two. Because for those paying attention, Biden provided several teachable moments.
Lesson No. 1: Biden isn’t too old to take on the hecklers.
Much has been made about the president’s age. Is he too old to run for re-election? Does he still have it? I have long said these are ageist questions, especially when asked anonymously — but I digress. On Tuesday night, when Biden said that the Trump administration added a massive amount to the national debt, he was met by GOP booing. “Those were the facts,” he calmly replied, noting they should do their homework and “check it out.”
Then, when Biden stated that “instead of making the wealthy pay their fair share, some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset every five years,” many Republicans in the chamber lost what little bit of decorum was left. They booed louder, pointing and shouting. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene screamed from the back that the president was a liar. Again, refusing to lose his cool, Biden encouraged the lawmakers to contact his office for proof. And then he rallied the entire chamber to give Social Security and Medicare a standing ovation, since apparently no one wanted to cut it.
It was quite the moment. But there were plenty of others, like when Biden said he told the Republicans who did not vote his infrastructure bill, but still asked him to fund projects in their districts, that he would “see them at the groundbreaking.”
The Joe Biden I saw Tuesday night looked like someone who was ready to rumble.
Lesson No. 2: Many Republican members of Congress lack respect for the speaker they struggled to elect.
Growing up, my mother sometimes would issue a warning to us before we went into a store with her. It would be some version of, “We better not have any problems in here.” Basically, she was telling us to be on our best behavior. And we would usually comply, because we respected her.
Before Biden’s speech, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy warned his members “to behave.” Spoiler alert: They did not. During the address, McCarthy was so disturbed by his peers’ lack of couth that he audibly shushed them — while sitting behind the president! McCarthy is not the Republican conference’s mother. He is their elected leader. He is the person they claimed they would follow. The person charged with keeping order. And yet some Republicans went to great lengths to ignore his wishes and embarrass him on national television.
Lesson No. 3: When Biden is talking about working class people and good-paying union jobs, he is not only speaking about white folks in America.
Before Tuesday’s address, I told my colleagues Joy Reid, Jen Psaki and Michael Steele that Black and brown people are working-class people too. In other words, the economic message the president delivers has to speak to them — not just white workers. Smartly, Biden wrapped his economic accomplishments in story and prose. To highlight the impact of his bipartisan infrastructure bill, he lifted up Saria Gwin-Maye, an ironworker from Kentucky. “For 30 years, she’s been a proud member of Ironworkers Local 44, known as the ‘cowboys of the sky,’” he said. As the camera panned to Gwin-Maye in the president’s box, America saw a Black woman as the face of the “good-paying union jobs” Biden promised.