Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare. President Joe Biden has lived that nightmare twice. First when his wife and daughter were tragically killed in a car accident in 1972, and then again in 2015 when his son, Beau, died of brain cancer.
In 2008, while serving as Delaware’s Attorney General, Beau Biden went to Iraq as a member of Delaware’s Army National Guard. During that deployment, he and other soldiers were exposed to chemicals and toxins released from “burn pits.” There is increasing suspicion such exposure is connected to the health struggles of veterans, leading to calls for the government to do more in addressing their suffering.
President Biden has questioned whether his son’s death is linked to these burn pits. He raised this issue on Tuesday (March 1) in his State of the Union address.
“Our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan faced many dangers. One was stationed at bases and breathing in toxic smoke from ‘burn pits’ that incinerated wastes of war — medical and hazard material, jet fuel, and more,” Biden said from the rostrum of the House of Representatives. “When they came home, many of the world’s fittest and best trained warriors were never the same. Headaches. Numbness. Dizziness. A cancer that would put them in a flag-draped coffin.”
In response to those solemn words, the president was heckled by a member of Congress who acted less like an elected official and more like a drunk fan at a college football game.
“You put them there. Thirteen of them!” GOP Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado yelled from her seat in an apparent critique of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan where 13 soldiers died from a suicide bombing in Kabul.
Ignoring the outburst (which elicited gasps of shock and boos from others in attendance), Biden continued his speech: “One of those soldiers was my son Major Beau Biden. We don’t know for sure if a burn pit was the cause of his brain cancer, or the diseases of so many of our troops. But I’m committed to finding out everything we can.”
At other points during the address, Boebert and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, chanted “build the wall!” and made other remarks. Even an occasion as formal as a State of the Union Address is no longer immune to our nation’s callous, polarized politics. Even a president talking about caring for veterans and reflecting on the death of his own son is perceived as an opportunity to attack (and Boebert likely saw an advance version of the speech, which suggests her stunt was premeditated).
Indeed, on Wednesday morning Boebert doubled down with a tweet: “The left is pissed because I called out Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan that left 13 of America’s finest in a flag-draped coffin.”
We can’t speak for “the left,” but in this edition of A Public Witness we speak as Christians appalled at the incivility of our public life. We cut through the noise to show how our nation is growing accustomed to such antics from Boebert to the point that media outlets treat it as just a normal day in Congress. Finally, we (politely) level our own protest against such behavior, which followers of Jesus can neither ignore nor condone.