Until a couple of days ago, I had never heard of Kathleen Sebelius. That may seem odd since I once had charge of the political reporters at the largest newspaper in Kansas. But that was more than 20 years ago, and I long ago shook the dust of that place from my shoes, thank the Lord.
Then on Sunday, I heard this advance feature on NPR about Gov. Sebelius, who was to give the Democratic response to the State of the Union address. I was ready to be displeased in principle, because I’ve always thought those responses to be an offensive institution in practice as well as in theory. The Constitution requires a state of the union message. The "response" is just partisanship for partisanship’s sake; it has existed mainly to have an argument.
But I was pleased at what I heard about this governor who has "spent years learning how to get along with her political opponents," and the piece on the radio seemed to promise something different this time, more along the collaborative lines of the recent economic stimulus deal.
Then came her actual response the next night, which is worth reading. An excerpt:
Good evening. I’m Kathleen Sebelius, governor of the state of Kansas, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to speak with you tonight. I’m a Democrat, but tonight it really doesn’t matter whether you think of yourself as a Democrat or a Republican or an independent or none of the above…
And so I want to take a slight detour from tradition on this State of the Union night. In this time, normally reserved for a partisan response, I hope to offer something more: An American response. A national call to action on behalf of the struggling families in the heartland and across this great country. A wake-up call to Washington, on behalf of a new American majority, that time is running out on our opportunities to meet our challenges and solve our problems….
Nice beginning. You’ve got this UnPartisan’s attention. Sure, she goes on to give a challenge to the president that is very Democratic in nature, and he as a Republican is bound to take exception to parts of it. And sure, she gets in the usual antiwar licks. But she presents it all in terms that an independent like myself can respect, instead of spewing the usual vile mess we hear out of Washington. I’ve got no problem with Democrats and Republicans setting different sorts of ideas out in competition with one another. I just want them to do it in a way that doesn’t make me want to turn a hose on them.
So — lots of UnParty points for Gov. Sebelius. How could she top that?
Like this: by endorsing Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president who embodies the same kind of "One Country" approach that she tried to invoke in her address Monday night.
The only way she could possibly top herself would be to endorse John McCain as well, he being the natural Republican counterpart of Sen. Obama. Sure, I know that’s asking a bit much, like whipped cream on top of hard candy. But just think: If she did that, we’d have to give her the UnParty nomination for president on the spot!