CONTRIBUTORS

Everyone’s talking about Reps. Boebert and Greene because they stuck out like sore thumbs

Mary McNamara
Los Angeles Times (TNS)
U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colorado) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) scream "Build the Wall" as U.S. President Joe Biden as he delivers the State of the Union address during a joint session of Congress in the U.S. Capitol’s House Chamber, Tuesday, March 1, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Evelyn Hockstein/Pool/Getty Images/TNS)

Many people are outraged that Reps. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., heckled President Joe Biden during his first official State of the Union address.

Me, I’m delighted. Not only was it an exquisitely shameless grab for attention, even by their generally shameless attention-grabbing standards, but it fell completely flat.

If Boebert and Greene had shown up at the Oscars wearing scuba gear, they couldn’t have more obviously misread the room.

I’m not interested in pearl-clutching over the sacred nature of the House chamber during the State of the Union; a president’s annual accounting of the year is not sacred and has, over the years, seen its share of heckling, audible groans and stony silences from both sides of the aisle. After President Trump delivered his last SOTU, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi publicly, with great fanfare, tore her hard copy of the speech into pieces (though at no point did she attempt to interrupt the president).

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I’m not even referring to the absurdly inept timing of Boebert’s outburst. The fact that the president chose not to mention this country’s very messy withdrawal from Afghanistan is open to legitimate criticism, but Boebert wasn’t interested in legitimate criticism. Instead she yelled an accusation that Biden is personally responsible for the deaths of 13 troops during that withdrawal. And she did so even as Biden was calling for better health care for veterans suffering from cancer potentially caused by burn pits. Including his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015.

Pavlovian response?: It was pretty shocking, but it was also kind of hilarious, in an “is Lauren Boebert actually a wind-up toy programmed with incendiary ‘own-the-Libs’ non sequiturs?” kind of way.

It is possible she just had a Pavlovian response to the word “Afghanistan.” It’s also possible she read the speech in advance and still chose that moment to step on the president’s reference to suffering veterans including his dead son. She may not care what the press thinks, but Biden was discussing a terrible situation for many veterans, and interrupting that may not go down well with her base.

Many Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, were called out for appearing to pay more attention to their phones than the president. Which seems rude, but who knows? Maybe they were fact-checking Biden as he spoke, or communicating with constituents, or having child care issues.

Boebert and Greene, on the other hand, made it clear they had their own agenda, one that seemed to have little to do with current events — and by current, I mean of this decade. Boebert wore a “Drill Baby Drill” shawl (2008, come get your shawl), which did not even come close, in fashion or impact, to the “I really don’t care, do u?” jacket First Lady Melania Trump wore ... in 2018. Meanwhile, Greene, who recently spoke at a convention organized by a white nationalist, actually tried to get an equally dated “Build the Wall” chant going.

Don’t they know Russia just invaded Ukraine and everyone is freaked out by inflation? No one is talking about the wall!!

In other words, they came spoiling for a fight — and stood out like sore thumbs in a room where stoking partisan divisions was not on the agenda. If anything, Biden’s consistent, insistent choice of unity over division left the two women looking outplayed.

Opening with a call for continued support of Ukraine, he took some credit for working to keep NATO united in their condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade a sovereign nation. But instead of pointing out that Trump and many of his supporters have often expressed support for Putin, Biden assumed everyone in Congress and the country was on the same page. America would stand as one to help end the spread of tyranny.

Biden did not mention Afghanistan, but neither did he mention the Jan. 6 insurrection, in which a Trump-supporting mob, buoyed by lies fed to them by people like Boebert and Greene, threatened the American government in the very chamber where they were all sitting.

During the portion of his speech devoted to COVID-19, he stressed the success of the country’s 70% vaccination rate, passing no judgment on the campaigns of disinformation from many conservative politicians that have kept far too many Americans from getting vaccinated.

He celebrated the 80 bipartisan bills he signed last year and thanked Republicans for helping to pass them. His only mention of his predecessor was in regard to “the $2 trillion tax cut passed in the previous administration that benefited the top 1% of Americans.”

There were some boos over that — and fair enough. Congress is and has always been divided on taxes. Like most State of the Union speeches, this one was interrupted many, many times by applause and standing ovations that came mostly from one side of the aisle while the other sat in grim silence. Again, fair enough, though Biden got more bipartisan ovations than his predecessor.

Indeed, the president’s speech was clearly an attempt to fulfill at least one of his campaign promises — to end all the partisan bickering, name-calling and ugly attacks that have been the hallmark of American politics in recent years. Political disagreement between the parties, and between Americans, is a necessary part of the democratic process. Personal vitriol, conflict-baiting and obsessive attachment to the notion of red versus blue is not.

A ridiculous look: He was aided in this by a general outrage over Russia’s attack on Ukraine, but Boebert and Greene obviously did not get even that memo. They could not even pretend for one hour to want a country capable of negotiating political differences without going straight to a street brawl. Some might say this is how they won their seats and please their base, or that one person’s heckling is another’s speaking truth to power.

But they looked ridiculous, in part because they were being ridiculous, but also because they were being ridiculous alone.

Many people in the House chamber are not happy about much of what Biden has done during his first year as president, and many disagree with the plans he laid out. Yet even with all the phone staring, almost all were content with withholding their applause, remaining seated and occasionally shaking their heads. And when Biden said something they agreed with, they too stood and clapped.

The fact that everyone is talking about Boebert and Greene is proof that they were alone in their ill-timed, ill-conceived outbursts. And that is actually a very good thing. Except for them. For them, it’s just embarrassing.