Last night America was treated to one of our most venerated spectacles: the State of the Union address. Like all things official and governmental, there was the usual bit of pomp and circumstance as various groups of people were announced and paraded in, with lots of smiles and handshakes and schmoozing.
Finally, it was President Obama's turn, and he made his way to the dais. Perfunctory as always, the Speaker announced "Ladies and Gentlemen - the President of the United States" and as if on-cue - a standing ovation ensued. All of it is predictable and silly and entertaining to watch. And then - the President got down to business.His speech
took us through the economy, Medicare, jobs and manufacturing, infrastructure, climate change and energy, housing, education, the military, foreign policy, voting, and - finally - gun violence.
There were a few items that were surprises, either for the nature of the language or the specificity. He nudged Congress several times, saying that certain issues should be non-partisan and easy to pass. He spoke about several job-creating measures such as green energy, better (and cheaper) education, high-tech manufacturing centers, infrastructure repair and improvement, and tax structures to encourage buying and hiring at home. He advocated for early childhood education.
The emotional highlight of his speech came at the end when asked for a vote on gun-control legislation. He admonished the Congress saying "If you want to vote no, that's your choice. But these proposals deserve a vote." He continued with mentioning victims of infamous shootings with the tag line "they deserve a vote". He also shamed states that make voting so difficult. Finally, he wrapped it all up with sweeping language to encourage us all to become more involved in making this country a better place:
We may do different jobs, and wear different uniforms, and hold different views than the person beside us. But as Americans, we all share the same proud title:
We are citizens. It's a word that doesn't just describe our nationality or legal status. It describes the way we're made. It describes what we believe. It captures the enduring idea that this country only works when we accept certain obligations to one another and to future generations; that our rights are wrapped up in the rights of others; and that well into our third century as a nation, it remains the task of us all, as citizens of these United States, to be the authors of the next great chapter in our American story.
As has also been the tradition for a few decades, the opposition provided their "rebuttal" to the SOTU. In recent years, it has not been one of the Republicans' shining moments. Who can forget Michelle Bachmann appearing to look over the shoulder of the cameraman, rather than into the camera? Who can forget Bobby Jindal sounding like he was talking to a 3rd grade class?
This time, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was given the unenviable task of trying to deliver some counter-inspiration after President Obama's soaring rhetoric. As have his predecessors, he failed - miserably. Looking scared and jumpy, he mischaracterized (and in some cases - lied)
about the president's speech or other "facts" he quoted to support his arguments. It was almost comical hearing him describe how he and his family succeeded at the American Dream due to governmental programs, and then proceeded to decry those same programs as too costly or intrusive.
And then - this happened
As the up-and-coming senator attempted to counter the president's message, he appeared to grow increasingly uncomfortable, wiping his mouth and licking his lips on a number of occasions. Apparently unable to wait until the end of his address to satiate his thirst, Rubio reached for his small bottle of Poland Springs water mid-speech.
It was awkward and hilarious. It totally obliterated any chance that what he said would be taken seriously, or even remembered. Any discussion you see of Rubio this morning will focus more on the water than on the content of his rebuttal. Rand Paul also had a rebuttal
from the Tea Party wing. He didn't even do it live on TV, opting instead for a "direct-to-video" approach, which should give some indication of how seriously it should be taken. Sample:
“The President offers you free stuff but his policies keep you poor,” Paul continued, then proposing his own five-year budget which includes a 17 percent flat income tax.
Heady material indeed.
The president's speech laid out an ambitious plan to remake America into a 21st century country. The chances of getting it all done in 4 years is practically nil. Whether any
of it can be accomplished remains to be seen.