The Hardest Speech in Politics

Year after year, responses to the State of the Union have flopped. They’ve always been either awkward or distracting, or in some cases, even disastrous. They have ended political careers and shaken up party establishments. Even the best responses have been trumped by a meme, a GIF or the president’s address itself. A case in point was Tuesday’s response, which, unfortunately for Marco Rubio and his gang, was overshadowed by a dry mouth and a bottle of water.

So it’s time for political parties to ask: is giving an official “response” worth it? Do its merits overweigh its drawbacks? To both of these questions, the answer is no.

If the saying that “politics is all theater” is true, then the response is definitely bad politics. Why? Because as the responder, you’re following the leader of the free world as he eloquently addresses a hallowed hall of the nation’s most important leaders. You’re attempting to live up to a person who enters the hall to thunderous applause, takes five minutes to walk to his podium, is interrupted by over twenty standing ovations — while also trying to match an address whose significance is enshrined in the constitution.

Your response, on the other hand, takes place in a small office. There is no applause, so you’re forced to speak in one continuous run. Your job, in representing your party, is to criticize every proposal that the president’s made in the last hour. It’s inconceivable that you’d be viewed as anything but less important, as smaller, as a pettier alternative to the man who delivered the big speech of the night.

The worst part of it all: these responses are pre-written before the State of the Union. So for anyone who thinks that chucking SOTU responses would undermine the exchange of free ideas essential to our democracy: it won’t. Our democracy would be better served if the opposition party actually took time to deliberate and think about policy proposals before they talked.

Why a party would put its leading 2016 presidential contender through such an ordeal will remain a mystery for me. The only thing that’s clear is that it can, and must, end.

 

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