I got bushed and went to bed last night before getting this video, which is Joe Wilson’s response to the State of the Union.
So… since some guy named Paul Ryan gave the “official” Republican response, and Michele Bachman (another nonentity to me, but I’ve vaguely aware she’s one of those fringe people the shouting heads on TV go on and on about, like Sarah Palin) delivered a sort of self-appointed alternative response as a way of playing directly to the Tea Party, that means Joe’s clip is sort of the alternative to the alternative. Or maybe, since the “official” GOP response is in itself offered as an alternative to the actual State of the Union, Joe’s is an alternative-alternative-alternative. Which sounds way more avant-garde than the way I think of Joe Wilson.
Speaking of Joe… I ran into his guy Butch Wallace this morning at breakfast and told him — sort of joshing, sort of serious — that I appreciated that Joe had behaved himself last night, adding that I suppose it was hard to do otherwise sitting with those Democratic ladies. Butch smiled politely. Then I added, quite seriously, that I appreciated that Joe had wanted to make that gesture — which others in our delegation refused to do, even though it would have taken them so little trouble. Butch said Joe wanted to work with all kinds of people, regardless of party, and I said that’s good — because the more folks you’re willing to work with, the more you’re likely to get done.
As for Joe’s message — it sure beats “You Lie!” (which, if you’ll recall, was NOT during a SOTU), although in his hurry, he sort of flubbed a couple of the lines. And the overall message is rather thin and lacking in substance. But these things always tend to be that way. There’s a formula: 1.) Due respect to the president (no name-calling); 2) A brief reference to something that was in the president’s speech, a cursory effort to give the impression that the responder actually read or heard it and thought about it before responding; 3) A rather trite and general statement of ideological difference with the president that may or may not bear relevance to the president’s points; 4) Some sort of statement of civic piety such as asking the deity to bless the troops, or America, or the taxpayers, or whatever.
So much for Joe and his message. Now to the larger issue: This nonsense of opposition-party “responses” to the State of the Union, which I have always found offensive. I thought this writer put it well: “The very idea of a rebuttal is asinine.”
Or at least, the idea of some sort of formal response with an “official” status is asinine. Of course, we’re all entitled and encouraged in this free country to share what we think of the president’s speech. But over the years, something really weird and insidious has happened, and like so many other media/political phenomena in the modern age, it has done much to solidify in the average voter’s mind the nasty notion that there is something good and right and natural about everything in our politics being couched in partisan terms.
First, just to give the broadest possible perspective, the State of the Union is a constitutional responsibility of the president of the United States — not of a party, or of an individual, but of the chief executive. It’s right there in black and white in Article II, Section 3:
He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
Note that it doesn’t say he has to do it every year, much less in January just before the Super Bowl. Nor is he even required to give a speech of any kind: Before Woodrow Wilson, presidents took care of this requirement in writing.
So, no one has to give a speech. But the president is required to make a report (including recommendations, if he judges such to be necessary and expedient, which you know he always will). It’s his job. It’s not a campaign speech (even though no politician yet born would pass up such an intro once it’s handed to him). It’s not something that he does on behalf of his execrable party. It’s something he is required to do.
In other words, the “equal time” requirement placed on purely political TV face time doesn’t apply. No member of the opposite party is in any way obliged to offer a “response,” and no broadcast outlet is obliged to run it — not by law, and not by any sense of journalistic obligation. Sure, you might cover it — you ought to cover it, and any other politically relevant response. (Just as you ought to cover the SOTU itself, if you know what’s news.) But the idea of a formal, ritualistic response is completely unnecessary.
And harmful. Because it instills in the public’s mind the notion that this is just some guy giving a political speech, rather than the president of the United States fulfilling the requirements of his job. And it inflates the ceremonial, institutional importance of parties to our system of government, putting the prerogatives of a party on the same level as the most fundamental requirements of our Constitution.
My reaction to the GOP response last night — that is to say, my reaction to the idea of a GOP response, because as usual, I didn’t watch it (when the pres was done, I ran upstairs to plug in my laptop because the battery was nearly dead and giving me warning messages) — was exactly the same as to Democratic responses to a Republican president: You want to give a free-media speech to the whole nation on this particular night, you go out and get elected president. We don’t have a president of one party and a “shadow” president as in a parliamentary system — we have one person elected to that position, and in delivering the SOTU (whether aloud or in writing), he’s fulfilling a specific responsibility that we elected HIM (and not some eager up-and-comer in the opposition party) to perform.
So share your thoughts all you want, folks. But spare me the “official” responses.