Generally speaking the State of the Union is light on hard content. That’s not exactly a new phenomena either. Over the entire history of the SOTU only once has a president declared the state of the union isn’t ‘strong’. In fairness to Gerald Ford it was in the middle of Watergate and Vietnam, so I can’t really blame him for that one. Even though it is rare to see anything concrete laid out, there is still important political theatre(screw you autocorrect, I’m spelling it the pretentious way) that plays out on the night of the speech.
I want to start by saying I hate the clapping. I know, I get it, you have to support your own party. I personally find it insufferable. I watch the SOTU so I can see a speech, not so I can confirm that democrats like democrats and republicans like republicans. It isn’t going to go away. It’s part of the speech. I just want my objection noted, and I vow that if I’m ever elected President of anything I’ll request all seats be covered in glue prior to my SOTU speeches.
There were several interesting moments showing the President’s relationship with congress. I liked what a Washington Post reporter said afterwards, “The audacity of hope has become the reality of limits.” The only time he really took a shot at congress was about the unemployment benefit extension, but his challenge to congress to come up with a bill to replace the Affordable Care Act instead of a 41st meaningless repeal vote was well placed.
The quote that is going to get a lot of attention was his vow to, “keep trying, with or without Congress,” on things like the minimum wage and gun control. Historically speaking a president with his approval rating loses big when the midterm elections come around. Obama knows he’ll be lucky to keep the senate and I’ll eat my left shoe if the Democrats take the house. His executive orders per year rate is currently lower than GWB, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and plenty of other presidents who all had congresses who were more willing to pass legislature than this one. I don’t like the use of executive orders, but it is within the scope of the president’s power and has been upheld by the supreme court. Obama did make it clear he was open to meeting congress in the middle on things like the minimum wage when he stated he would concede plenty of things as far as corporate taxes go.
Two things only got mentioned once in the speech, marriage equality and immigration reform. Marriage equality did get an additional nod with the presence of Jason Collins in the first lady’s box. Immigration reform was also the only legislative issue that got brought up in one of the Republican responses.
As a quick aside before I talk more about the three separate Republican responses, I don’t think immigration reform will get done this year because it is a midterm year. I said it earlier in the article, the Republicans don’t have to do anything to maintain the house, and don’t have to do much to gain the senate. Immigration reform is something big that would be used against incumbents as they were trying to run. I do think immigration reform will get done between 2015 and 2016. Some variety of reform is necessary if Republicans want to stop Texas from turning purple, an event that would crush republican presidential aspirations for many elections to come.
Two things stand out about the Republican responses. The easiest thing to notice was that there were three separate responses. The ‘official’ response was given by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). The Tea Party response was given by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). An additional pre-recorded response, I’m not certain how you can pre-record a response but I’ll go with it, was given by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY). The biggest adversary to a Republican landslide in the midterms are other Republicans. The party isn’t united, and it is hard to argue otherwise when they can’t even get behind one person to deliver a state of the union response.
Until I watched her response, I had no idea who Representative Rodgers was. After I watched her response, I certainly knew plenty about her. I was shocked how much personal introduction and anecdote there was at the beginning, and interspersed throughout, of her speech. The only policy comments I noticed was the one paragraph mentioning immigration.
It is no secret the state of the union response is often something of a proving ground for future presidential candidates and party leaders. Bob Dole gave the response in ’94 before being the Republican candidate in ’96 and Paul Ryan gave it in ’11. Rodgers’s speech didn’t have any negative memorable moments like Rubio’s needing the drink of water or Jindal’s ‘Howdy Doody’ response. Rodgers introduced herself, paid her way through college thanks to working at McDonald’s, she introduced her husband, active duty Navy, and she introduced her family, multiple children including one with Down’s syndrome.
I’m calling it right now, Rodgers will be heavily included in the 2016 presidential race as the GOP counter to Hillary Clinton. I could be completely off the mark, but the impression I got from the most official of the three Republican responses was that I was watching someone trying to make the right first impression, not someone trying to rebut the current president.
This was something of a mish-mash of thoughts so as always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.