To Stand or Not to Stand: The State of the Union as a Political Arena

Connor Recck ’23

Opinion Editor

The State of the Union is a moment for the president of the United States to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress, the President’s Cabinet, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, invited guests, and you, the American people. This is the second State of the Union address that has been delivered by President Biden, who now enters his third year in office.

Nearly a year prior, at President Biden’s first State of the Union address, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine had entered its sixth day. Much of Biden’s first address centered around the international relations and geopolitical impacts of Putin’s actions on Europe and the rest of the world. Just days before his second State of the Union, a Chinese spy balloon was shot down over U.S. airspace at the direction of President Biden and military officials. At Biden’s first State of the Union, rising inflation in the United States was just beginning to take shape in a manner that would go on to surge into a 40-year high. At his second address, Biden touts that inflation has been steadily falling for the past six months.

President Biden promoted accomplishments left and right. He announced the current unemployment rate of 3.4 percent (noting this rate is at a 50-year low), 800,000 manufacturing jobs created (the fastest growth in 40 years, he says), 10 million Americans applying to start small businesses, among other figures and statistics mentioned in a wide facet of topics and industries. Some accomplishments elicited a response from the entire room, some only elicited a response from Democratic lawmakers.

The story of the State of the Union address is one of melodramatics. It’s a moment for the president to brag about their accomplishments and push for the agenda points they wish to see accomplished during the remainder of their term. The president’s party will spend an hour and a half clapping, standing up then sitting back down like clockwork, with the purpose of projecting party strength and unity to the millions of Americans watching the address at home in their living rooms. The party opposite of the president often has more fun at these addresses, finding moments during the president’s speech to call out directly, making comments and producing sensational news stories that will fill the airwaves the following day. Their legs usually thank them after for their adamant ability to stay seated for much, if not nearly the entire duration of the address.

The State of the Union is primarily the politics of “to stand or not to stand.” What statements made by President Biden are safe enough for Republicans to agree “lets stand and cheer for this statement?” Republicans know full well that many of their constituents have grown to hate President Biden, much of these opinions manufactured at the hands of lawmakers, political pundits, and the wide circulation of biased media sources operating with a specific narrative in mind. Seemingly uncontroversial statements can be made by the President, and even then, you will find a sea of seated members of Congress that refuse to show any support for the President.

Some statements, however, are controversial enough for these members to stand and heckle at the President, as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) did when she stood to call the President a “Liar!” after making the comment, “Some Republicans want Medicare and Social Security to sunset.” This did not only elicit a response from the gentlewoman from Georgia, but a host of Republican lawmakers jeered in contempt of the President’s statement. This would go on to be one of the most circulated moments of the address in the day that followed.

But why this moment? What about this specific moment was so important for the media to fixate over in the news cycle? The State of the Union is a political arena, and whether a Republican or Democrat is giving the address, politicians in these moments will take hold of any advantage they can take over one another. While the party of the president giving the address is motivated to project unity to the nation, the opposite party will do everything in their power to make disunity their focus. I disagree with President Biden when he said, “the state of our union is strong.” This address simply operates as political theatrics and until our leaders are willing to have a cold, hard look at their behavior, the will of the people, and the state of our union, will remain fractured.

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