Adults in the playroom: Biden and Romney try to rescue order from chaos — but is that enough?

Romney smacked down George Santos and Biden flipped the script on MTG. But does America even want the truth?

By Brian Karem


Published February 9, 2023 9:35AM (EST)

Mitt Romney and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Mitt Romney and Joe Biden (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

At least two adults showed up in the House of Representatives chamber on Tuesday night — giving the nation some hope for the future. Meanwhile, several of the feral children who hold federal offices arrived and soiled their own sandbox.

Whether it was Mitt Romney destroying George Santos or President Biden owning his hecklers with a smile, America got to see what happens when serious-minded politicians — with real experience — take center stage.

Of course, after watching the social media world tear itself apart over Biden's State of the Union address, not to mention the laughable retort from  Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the lightweight governor of Arkansas and infamous former presidential mouthpiece, you have to wonder whether not all humans are sentient.

The president used some powerful words to describe a hopeful America. Those words have been part of his standard stump speech, but in an age of divisiveness his closing remarks landed with resonance: "Because the soul of this nation is strong, because the backbone of this nation is strong, because the people of this nation are strong, the State of the Union is strong. As I stand here tonight, I have never been more optimistic about the future of America."

The only thing the man-child Donald Trump could say in response on his social media platform was that Biden was a liar and the country isn't that strong. I guess that's the rallying cry for children who are prone to histrionics. 

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, speaking for the Republicans, countered with, "The dividing line in America is no longer between right or left.  The choice is between normal or crazy. " She is absolutely right. She is also absolutely crazy.

These contrary thoughts about the status of our country go far deeper than the division between right and  left. Do we even know what a fact is? Are we sentient enough to recognize one if we see it? Those questions are foremost on my mind after listening to and watching Biden speak and after witnessing others decry him as a criminal, the largest liar and worst president ever to live at the White House. As Tom Arnold said in "True Lies," denial ain't just a river in Egypt. Many in this country not only live in denial of what Trump did while in office, but deny their own ignorance and are arrogant about it. But enough about George Santos.

The ease and comfort with which certain members of Congress overlook or ignore an insurrection waged for Trump's benefit at our nation's Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, while calling Biden a liar and the worst president ever, is horrifyingly and darkly amusing. These very same people became instant experts this week on high-altitude balloons. Satire has never been easier — if we could only laugh.

Far too many members of Congress are willing to overlook Trump's insurrection while calling Joe Biden a liar. And now they're instant experts on high-altitude balloons.

Now, back to George Santos. The embattled New York congressman with the invented life story was told to sit down and shut up, as Congress gathered for the State of the Union, by none other than Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, once upon a time the Republican Party's presidential nominee. Romney is a leading GOP advocate for removing Santos from office and has made no secret about it. You'd think that if Santos had any common sense, he'd lie low and try to weather the storm. But Santos has no sense at all and struck a fanboy stance Tuesday night. There he stood, center aisle, wearing a suit and a bright orange tie, trying to position himself to shake as many hands as possible, as if he were a solitary political groupie.

Santos seems incapable of rational, independent thought — let alone adult action. He later tweeted a snarky comment about Romney, noting that the latter will never be president. That is likely a fact. But it also might be a fact that Santos will soon wear more orange than just the tie he had on Tuesday night. Foreshadowing? 

Meanwhile, consider the State of the Union address itself. I hope you saw it. If you didn't, and relied on the instant analysis of news anchors and pundits after the fact, I'm advising you otherwise. Ignore the instant analysis. On television we gave the usual mixed bag of cheers and insults, either praising or vilifying Biden while often telling our audience, "The truth is ..."

Much of that analysis is based on nothing more than quips and one-liners. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit, but it's not the soul of analysis. Nonetheless, many pundits proclaimed that they were telling us the unvarnished "truth" about Biden's address. Pray tell, whose truth are they telling me? What gives anyone the right to tell me what the truth is?

Journalists are not here to tell you "the truth."

Anyone, in the media or anywhere else, who claims they dictate to you the "truth" is full of shit.

Journalism is the search for facts. If you want truth, as Indiana Jones said, the philosophy class is two doors down.

Unfortunately, these days we don't deliver the facts. When Biden said he wanted to renew antitrust efforts (recalling famed "trust-buster" Teddy Roosevelt — a Republican, if you're keeping score) one has to hope that includes breaking up the media monopolies.

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Today we are less about news and more about trying to preach our own version of the truth, and in so doing we are humorless, shameless and feckless. Before the State of the Union, I heard from several friends of mine in the business who sat in on planning meetings for their various organizations about how to cover Biden's speech. Editors made "bold predictions" about Biden "going after the Republicans" and mounting a vicious campaign to denigrate them. "That's how we see it, objectively," I was told. That's objective? Hell, it's not even well-informed. That's not how Biden operates.

I don't ever want to hear anything more about journalists being objective. At the risk of sounding like Woody Allen and Diane Keaton arguing philosophy ("Love and Death," check it out!) objectivity is subjective.

"I never understood what 'objectivity' meant," explained longtime Washington Post editor Leonard Downie Jr. in a recent opinion piece. "I didn't consider it a standard for our newsroom. My goals for our journalism were instead accuracy, fairness, nonpartisanship, accountability and the pursuit of truth." 

I understand what "objectivity" means. Since it's inherently subjective, I don't believe in it and I don't employ it as a standard for journalism. The goal of journalism begins and ends with factual accuracy and exceptional writing — and that doesn't end after publication. The constant updating is endless at best and forgotten at worst. Want to be fair? Then be accurate.

Pretend you are Lt. Columbo for a minute. Search for facts. It is the height of hubris and arrogance to assume the role of "truth-teller" for the rest of humanity. The best label is "fact-finder." The truth is always subjective. There are five major religions and about 4,000 other religious faiths on the planet and they all have their truths. 

We need no more false prophets. The journalist serves best who provides facts, corrects them, updates them and supplies them to his fellow man. There's our relevance.

Facts, it turns out, are far more important than the so-called truths extracted from them. How many "truths" exist independent of facts? The fiction of objectivity gives cover to those who use it to push their own agenda — either by giving false equivalence on disparate issues, or by using "he said, she said" as a defense for reporting, instead of finding the facts.

At the end of the day, the vetted fact is the coin of the realm.

*  *  *

Last week, in between being spared the pain of dining with Bill Barr at a journalistic event where we both spoke, and then presenting a speech in which I called him out for lying, I was reminded of accountability. 

In journalism, facts are more important than the so-called truths extracted from them. As Indiana Jones put it, if you want truth, philosophy class is two doors down.

In speaking before the California Newspaper Publishers Association, I said I was glad Barr was involved in the conference. "Maybe he'll finally answer some pointed questions about his fiction surrounding the Mueller report," I said. He promised me an interview to answer those questions after his luncheon speech, but (no surprise) he was lying  to me and didn't follow through. Thus I could only get a written question presented to him during his speech. I asked whether Barr accepted any responsibility for disinformation or misinformation that was spread while he was Trump's attorney general. He said he would "accept no responsibility. " That is a fact.

Whether he knew this or not, Barr was echoing his former boss, who used those same words to claim no responsibility for things he'd participated in as president. It is a fact that neither man will accept any responsibility for anything that they do not believe is in their best interest to defend. 

Both are protecting their own political posteriors these days. Barr tried to defend himself at the recent CNPA meeting by blaming the media for all of his ills, public and private. It was just the latest version of "shoot the messenger."

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is doing what he always does: yelling like a banshee, moaning in despair, anger, victimhood and hatred, and promising that salvation can only be found through him. Trump is his own version of Lady Macbeth. His is the tale told by an idiot, the epitome of "sound and fury signifying nothing." 

Nothing remains inevitable for Donald Trump. His descent into nothingness remains as fascinating as a dying dust devil on the lonely western Kansas prairie — one of those places Trump claims to represent, but only exploits. 

Juxtapose Trump and Barr's partisan posturing with Joe Biden. In his State of the Union address, Biden said that democracy isn't a partisan thing, but an American thing. He vowed to work with the Republican Congress. The most divisive stance he took during his entire speech Tuesday night was on taxing billionaires. "Let's finish the job. Reward work, not just wealth. Pass my proposal for a billionaire minimum tax. Because no billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a school teacher or a firefighter."

The GOP would have none of it. Speaker Kevin McCarthy wouldn't even applaud when Biden proposed higher pay for school teachers.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, in the GOP response, tried to lay claim as the "new leadership" in the Republican Party, but could only parrot her former boss. So much for critical thinking. Her entire partisan response to the State of the Union address not only landed with a loud thud but rested on calling Biden a liar and insisting that America stinks. I recently read an article proposing that  misinformation and disinformation were no big  deal. I'd say whoever wrote that skipped Sanders' speech and is therefore grossly misinformed. 

Here are a few additional facts to consider; Biden had a lot of energy Tuesday night. He handled his hecklers very well and even set a trap for the eternally immature Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, which gave him the opportunity to announce that everyone in Congress had just agreed not to cut Social Security or Medicare. While not quite saying so, he also laid the groundwork for his re-election campaign. "Let's finish the job," Biden said more than once. Want to guess how long it will be before that becomes his official campaign slogan?

That's what the facts suggest. Further information could change that. The Democrats, for now giddy with Biden's Tuesday speech, will probably repeat Biden's message and expand upon it going forward. Meanwhile, the president, like  other presidents before him, has taken his message on the road with stops in Wisconsin and Florida over the next few days. Those are potential battleground states in the next election. 

The Republicans, left in disarray after Biden's speech (I mean, how do you argue against American cooperation?), will try to counter with their divisive rhetoric. Some will try to work with Biden, some will try to kick George Santos out of Congress and others will take the road often traveled by Trump and Barr: They'll refuse to accept responsibility and blame the Democrats for everything while they — along with some of their Democratic counterparts — rearrange the deckchairs on the Titanic. 

So the 2024 presidential race has begun in earnest. That's the fact we have yet to acknowledge and perhaps the real importance of Biden's speech. 

As my dad used to say, "Close the door and buckle up."

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary George Santos Joe Biden Kevin Mccarthy Mitt Romney Republicans State Of The Union