Joe’s alternative to the alternative to the GOP response

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.

15 thoughts on “Joe’s alternative to the alternative to the GOP response

  1. Doug Ross

    “because the more folks you’re willing to work with, the more you’re likely to get done.”

    This is only true if:

    a) The people you are working with are intelligent

    b) The people you are working with have shared goals and objectives

    c) The people you are working with are willing to accept that their ideas may be 100% wrong

    If the intent is to reach some type of compromise, then the result will always be suboptimal.

    Could you sit down with a group of late-term abortion zealots and reach a compromise position on that subject? I don’t think so.

    Our government is not built on achieving excellence but instead on achieving compromises that reward the loudest (not the smartest) voices with the most money. It’s why we can’t ever actually cut government spending – because it would mean someone actually giving up something rather than trading one dollar here for another over there.

    What we need is a dominant party that can achieve its goals and objectives and see what happens. 51-49 votes result in lousy legislation. We should have a super majority requirement for any legislation.

  2. Doug Ross

    To follow on:

    What kind of health care bill would we have if it required a 66% majority? You’d get all the things Americans want without all the giveaways and loopholes that make it worth rejecting as a whole.

  3. Tim O'Keefe

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I was never sure why the opposition party was allowed the opportunity to rebut in the first place. The obvious answer is that it must sell ads. I do find it amusing to watch though. You pegged the formula exactly.

    And what in the world is Michelle Bachman’s position in all of this that she would be allowed the TV face time for a rebuttal? She’s a Republican, right? The last time I voted there was no Tea Party line on the ballot. Why does she get more attention? Why not the Libertarian Party? The Communist Party? The Green Party?

    Talk about amusing to watch, Michelle Bachman is a parody of herself. How about her recent pronouncement that the founding fathers abolished slavery!?

  4. Brad

    Oh, yeah, that’s our Glenn. He’s all, “We gave some agencies to the governor, and look what happened!”

    How anyone can justify not giving the elected chief EXECUTIVE control over the EXECUTIVE branch of government? I ask that, and yet it doesn’t trouble Glenn at all…

  5. Mark Stewart

    Brad, or Mr. Harrell for that matter.

    But thanks for the clear-eyed analysis of the Presidential address. For a while there I was afraid you might defend the press on that one. And of legislators assuming executive roles. But you put both both back in their (important) places.

  6. Sammy L Clemens

    Paul Ryan is austerity combined with nihilism personified. He wants to do away with social security for those under 55 and finds government intervention into health care unconstitutional.

    Ironically he specifically cited in his diatribe that government should provide a safety net. Perhaps he was referring to the retirement package and coverage he will enjoy as a government worker.

  7. bud

    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.

    We all have our pet peeves. Brad’s is the over-arching concern with partisan politics. I don’t really object to partisan politics as Brad defines it. If a group of people get together and form a “party” in order to get their ideas put into law then great. What’s wrong with that? If another group does the same thing and your group has legitimate disagrements then it’s not only ok to stridently oppose the other groups plans but it’s a moral imperative to do so.

    Now for my pet peeve. I find this whole notion of “getting somethng done” offensive. That is just another way of passing new legislation. We “got something done”, and in a bipartisan manner, when we decided to invade a harmless country in the middle east back in 2003. The result is hundreds of thousands dead and billions of dollars squandered.We also “got something done” in SC back in 93 when we passed the worst piece of legislation in history with the costly restructuring bill. Getting bad stuff done is not good governance and I don’t feel like there is anything positive to be gained by simply “getting something done”.

    It’s kind of like in a sporting event when an official decides there is no foul on a particular play. He doesn’t throw the flag and that’s a good thing. As for our government sometimes “not getting anything done” is a good thing. I say if the GOP wants to have 2 or 50 responses to the SOTU go for it. Learning what all sides want at this time of year is a good thing. Getting stuff done, not necessarily so.

  8. Jim Duffy

    At some point the State of the Union address became little more than a statement of the political aims of the sitting President. If to be a statement of the condition of the nation it should address the problems and what went wrong and what went right, i.e. is the country in financially good condition, is the nation safe from outside aggression, is the populice treated equally and fairly and what can be done to address issues that need correction. Plainly this nation is in turmoil. The urban areas are of one party and the rest of the nation of the other party. Plainly there is a disconnect.

  9. Ralph Hightower

    There should have been only one response to the SOTU: the Republican response. The Tea Party is not recognized as a political party like the Democrat and Republican parties are. Bachmann was elected as a Republican. She should have deferred to Paul Ryan. There should not have been two Republican responses.

    I was kind of hoping that Nikki Haley would do the response to see if she is up to the national scrutiny. Bobby Jindal really blew his opportunity to shine in the national spotlight as a SOTU responder.

  10. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Why, I wonder, is the rural/suburban political take diametrically opposed to the urban one? Is it experience or is it that people who are a certain way choose to live in one place or the other? And are they that way because of genetics (they’ve found the altruism gene–and we all don’t have it, say) or experience?

  11. Phillip

    @Kathryn: actually I would go farther and say that Michele Bachmann makes Sarah Palin seem Lincolnesque by comparison. Still, the clinically insane do need a voice in Washington, and Bachmann does provide that.

    As for Paul Ryan, I made a point to watch the entire hour he was on with Charlie Rose recently, as I had heard so much about him being a big intellect within the conservative movement, so I was eager to hear him. Was sorely disappointed…Sure, he can string together coherent sentences and manages to steer clear of culture-war grenade-throwing, but he struck me as a lightweight, not a deep thinker, and not as persuasive an advocate for conservative economic principles as many (but not those in politics). I guess this is what passes for “intellectual” in the Palinized Republican party, you betcha, where any sign of intellect and education is mocked as an indication of “elitism,” or even worse, being “professorial.” (Horrors! And we wonder why the Chinese are starting to kick our rear ends, when we devalue knowledge, erudition, education so pervasively.)


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