President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address was like any other. He spoke of his accomplishments and pressed the opposition party to meet his mandates for votes.
This year, however, felt a bit more confrontational than usual. Biden goaded conservatives into heckling him with boos and jeers. It almost felt like a comedy club on Capitol Hill.
Let Republicans tell it, and the heckling was due to Biden lumping in all Republicans with those who want to do away with Medicare and Social Security. But that wasn’t the only time he was heckled. Biden was heckled on his immigration plan, the situation with China and the issue of fentanyl. Much of it was Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.
It took me back to 2009 at President Barack Obama’s second state of the union address, when he was heckled by relatively obscure South Carolina House member Rep. Joe Wilson, who yelled “you lie.” Wilson’s name will live in infamy for that moment. Many were upset, namely, Black people, because never had a president received such disrespect.
Conservatives and whites alike can say what they want, but much of what was behind the disrespect was that President Obama was Black. Republicans at the time had the goal of making Obama a one-term president. It’s not simply because of his policies per se. Obama was more than just a Black man, which was plenty reason for white nationalists to despise him. But he also represented the multicultural electorate that voted him into office.
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The same is true for Biden.
No, Biden isn’t Black (last time I checked). Yes, he’s the guy Democrats believed could cut into Donald Trump’s base of white working-class voters. But he got booed and heckled like Obama did… worse even. It is because of Biden’s proximity to Black voters – in the eyes of the white nationalist holding congressional seats – and the Republican Party that gives them legitimacy may as well see the same vision they do.
Biden’s presidency represents the multicultural vote that got him elected in the first place. That’s enough for white nationalist politicians to see red and heckle him profusely. Some of those politicians still view Biden as an illegitimate president because he was elected by Black voters in Milwaukee, Detroit, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.
Like Obama, like Biden.
Yet Republicans will cry out for decorum when they’re heckled by the public. Of course it is hypocritical. Democrats do as well. Here is how it is different. Republicans call for decorum to provide them cover for their dastardly policies that harm people. Democrats call for decorum to silence those who push them to do more for the people.
Both heckling and leveraging decorum are all about attacking and silencing a multicultural (specifically Black) electorate meant to politically overtake the white power structure. Yet Biden has let down his voter base—specifically Black voters who chose him as early as the South Carolina primary. Most notably, Biden was hesitant on calling for an end to the filibuster in the senate and he waited to make voting rights a priority for his administration.
But failing Black voters isn’t enough for white nationalist politicians. Biden’s very presence is offensive because he represents Black voters and the potential for policy change in favor of those voters. Therefore, he will get booed, heckled, and told that his presidency is illegitimate.
The president can’t “both sides” his way into public policy achievements. No need getting booed by everyone. So lean in to who got you there.
Images: President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address, Feb. 7, 2023. Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Calif. applaud. (AP/Jacquelyn Martin, Pool) / Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., heckles Biden during the State of the Union address, Feb. 7, 2023. (AP/Susan Walsh)
Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. He is the author of the upcoming book, Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids, with an anticipated release date of February 2023. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .