"It's a real honor to preside over my first State of the Union address as speaker," said Speaker Paul Ryan on Twitter, right before spending the next 70 minutes shitting all over the president, along with the rest of the GOP.
Last night marked President Barack Obama's eighth and final State of the Union address (full text here), a historic moment for the United States and a huge personal achievement for the embattled president, who has faced gun violence, terrorism, a flailing economy, and a hostile Congress during his two terms in office.
That hostile Congress was out in full colors last night, displaying a shocking level of disrespect for the Commander in Chief, and Speaker Ryan, who remained largely inert on the rostrum behind the president, was first in line — while even the most reluctant of his Republican fellows got up to applaud for lines supporting veterans, the "cancer moonshot," and American military strength, Ryan at one point actually twiddled his thumbs. His continual anxious shifting, on display to the nation, also included moves like crossing his legs, adjusting his jacket, fiddling with his ear, and wringing his hands. Perhaps he just really needed to tinkle.
He also — or, rather, his interns and staff — tweeted during the State of the Union with a line of commentary demonstrating his sheer level of disdain for the president.
He wasn't the only one. While the GOP isn't required to like the State of the Union, and is in fact encouraged to respond with a rebuttal — provided this year by South Carolina governor Nikki Haley — a modicum of respect is a reasonable expectation in the halls of Congress, and the behaviors seen on display last night were nothing short of childish.
Take, for example, Kim Davis — remember her? — who managed to consume both oxygen and a precious seat at one of the hottest political events of the year and spent the whole time staring sourly at the president, at times openly glaring at the camera. While this is a common expression for the bigoted county clerk, she could have taken a little more care to control her features in the presence of the president. Yes, the right to free speech includes the right to look like someone just left a bag of flaming poo on your doorstep while attending the State of the Union, but it's poor form.
Similarly, large swaths of the GOP chose to remain seated with increasingly bored expressions — some even appeared to nod off — during the speech, including during segments that would have provoked thunderous GOP applause had they come from a Republican president. Instead, they evidently so greatly feared appearing supportive of anything coming out of the president's mouth that they opted to sit still through the president's commentary on issues like better benefits and support for military and veterans, bootstrapping recommendations to work harder in order to achieve dreams, and improving conditions for business, all popular GOP topics. We couldn't expect them to stand up for the class war segment of the evening or their sound spanking on failure to act on Daesh and curbing Islamophobic sentiment, but come on, they couldn't rise for curing cancer?
Instead, they were busy playing with their smartphones, staring off into space, and sighing when the president said things they particularly disliked — like the teeny tiny reference to Black Lives Matter he slipped in at the end of the speech, so quickly and quietly that you'd have missed it if you blinked. They looked like nothing so much as a class of kindergarteners squirming while they wait for the recess bell, and it reflected poorly on the Republican party.
Notably, some leading conservatives didn't even bother to show up, in a supreme act of contempt: Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia evidently had better things to do with their time.
I'm going to level with you: I think the GOP's activities during the State of the Union were inappropriate, but, like I say, they were completely protected under the First Amendment. It's not illegal to be rude to the president and it shouldn't be — if people really think they're sending some kind of grand message by behaving this way while the president makes an important address (as mandated in the Constitution that so many Republicans hold so dear, at least in part), that's their business.
But this is about more than that. It also highlighted the deep and vicious bipartisan divide in the United States. Looking at the presidential candidates from the GOP, we can see that extremism and aggression are winning the day, and more moderate candidates don't stand a chance in the toxic and highly polarized environment of modern American politics. Republicans like Senator John McCain seem almost leftist and quaint by comparison, given their commitment to working across the aisle and finding common ground, when possible, to resolve pressing issues that affect the nation.
The modern iteration of the GOP is willing to hold up the entire nation in government shutdowns to get its way, to repeatedly attempt to defund Planned Parenthood and other government initiatives, to incite Islamophobic hatred, to exclude refugees in need of shelter from our borders, to engage, repeatedly, in acts of intolerance that should not reflect American values — something the president directly called out in last night's speech when he reflected on the political and social climate of the United States. Though he may have said that the state of the union was strong, it wasn't an entirely fair assessment — the GOP, as evidenced by the juvenile behaviors on display last night, is actively trying to undermine many of the things that America stands for.
Were Democrats to behave that way during a Republican address to Congress, I can't imagine the GOP standing for it, and they shouldn't — it would be just as disrespectful to a sitting Republican president. But turnabout, evidently, is not fair play, especially in the case of the modern iteration of the Republican party. I have never been an ardent Obama supporter, and I wasn't entirely pleased with many of the things said in the State of the Union, and I was raised in a barn, but I at least have the decency to know when it's in my best interests, and those of my cohorts, to behave like a grownup.
The GOP had best get its house in order.
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