FL Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) gave the GOP response to President Obama’s State of the Union address. Now, delivering the opposing party response to a SOTU address is a very difficult task. The President speaks before the assembled chambers of Congress. The responder speaks to a camera in some unrecognized office. That said, the response does allow the opposing party to lay out a governing position for the American public. Unfortunately, Rubio used his time mostly to deflect attacks made by Obama. A prevent defense can work in sports, but rarely in politics.
The first part of Rubio’s speech was devoted to establishing his bona fides as coming from modest roots. He is not rich and he still lives in the working-class neighborhood where he grew up. This is fine, as far as it goes, but it also suggests a Republican party that is too obsessed with countering the demagogic attacks from Obama and the Democrats. That Rubio, and the GOP in general, feels they have to preface any political remarks with an assurance that they come from modest means suggests a party that has succumbed to media bullying.
Rubio then pleaded with voters that Obama was misrepresenting the GOP positions. It has the feel of a defense attorney trying to make a closing argument against a misleading prosecutor.
When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air.
When we suggest we strengthen our safety net programs by giving states more flexibility to manage them – he accuses us of wanting to leave the elderly and disabled to fend for themselves.
And tonight, he even criticized us for refusing to raise taxes to delay military cuts – cuts that were his idea in the first place.
But his favorite attack of all is that those who don’t agree with him – they only care about rich people.
Now, I’m going to take away the defense attorney analogy. Rubio’s response was more like the kid on the playground who tries to appeal to a teacher about a classmate’s cheating. Nobody likes the cheater, but we hate more the kid who whines about it.
Rubio’s speech certainly had several good lines. There were even some good phrases. But, he took the “response” task too close to heart. He checked the boxes and attempted to rhetorically beat back Obama point-by-point.
The GOP needs to stop feeling they have to defend their positions. They have the weight of history and all current polling in their favor. As Andrew used to say, “We’re selling freedom. If we can’t do that, we suck.”