New Orleans The British have a raucous political tradition that amazingly continues to endure, called “question period.” The Prime Minister de jure takes questions from the opposition leader and parliamentarians on both sides of the aisle who hoot and holler from the back benches as if they were at a local football, which is to say soccer, match. Being able to give as well as you get is part of the measure of a prime minister over there. What a country! Of all the things that the new Republican majority in the US House of Representatives might want to import from the United Kingdom, who would have guessed it would be the heckling of the question period, but the recent annual State of the Union by President Biden seems to indicate they have embraced the mayhem tactics fully.
Perhaps, when there is a huge television audience watching, might not have been the ideal time to front and center the tryout for this curious new tradition that they want to embrace. Last year, the State of the Union was second only to the Super Bowl in viewing audience. This year is likely no different. We’ll never know what tactical confusion convinced some of the rightwing radicals to use this event to showcase their bad manners. What we are likely to know is how bad these outbreaks backfired on them.
To his credit, President Biden parried each one skillfully, likely relishing the opportunity. Even better for Biden, his ability to respond quickly and with spirited spot-on impromptu repartee, put the lie to questions that he may be slipping. Responding to one shout of “liar” on his charges that Republicans were trying to use the debt ceiling fight to cut Social Security and Medicare, he rejoined that they could contact his office for a copy of their proposal. At another juncture when they continued shouting, he zinged back that maybe we now have agreement not to cut those programs. It felt like he had set a trap, and some of them didn’t fall, but leaped into it head over heels.
There may not be a million people who will remember what he said in the speech, but everyone, literally everyone, who watched it will know that he won every time they heckled. The takeaway pictures of Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene shouting are classics. Only the hardcore MAGA folks are going to line up to defend such antics. Once again, the impotence of the new House Speaker is on display with yet more proof that the inmates have taken over the asylum, the lions are out of the cage. When Arkansas’ new governor, the questionable Republican choice to respond to the president, had her chance, she offered a choice between “normal or crazy.” She probably wishes she could take that back, since it was clear to everyone that Biden represented the normal, and the Republican alternatives had chosen the crazy.