Friday, February 04, 2011

On responding to the response

Okay, so I promised a note on the opposition response to the State of the Union address, but there isn't much to say. What's frustrating to me about the opposition response is that it isn't really a response--it's a pre-recorded speech that only addresses the issues raised in the SOTU if the issues raised in the SOTU are the ones predicted by the opposition in the preparation of their response. And while that's a bit annoying when the speech is predictable and/or lacking in substance, it's particularly frustrating when there's stuff I'd like to hear them actually respond to.

What we got instead was basically your standard political speech, recorded and played after the president was done speaking. And because this year's SOTU took so many rather unexpected paths, Paul Ryan's for-real response made him sound like he'd been sleeping through the speech, and Michele Bachmann's me-too speech made her sound… very much like herself.

The For-Real Response: Paul Ryan


The Style: Okay, some parts of it were going to sound wacky either way. There was a certain quasi-apocalyptic tone to his comments, as if complete economic collapse is right around the corner and we're all going to be living in surprisingly technologically equipped squats selling our blood for food money. Yes, we're in tough economic times--just ask the guy who was out of work for more than a year. But we're on our way back, thanks in part to those deeply hated (even by me) government bailouts and in large part to the tenacity of the American people. We're not on the brink of collapse. As long as we start right away to make reasoned and reasonable changes, we're not going to crumble under the weight of our debts and have to train our children as pickpockets.

The Substance: The content of his speech really underscored the extent to which we're getting nothing important from the response, because he's not responding to anything said in the SOTU (which I'd really be interested to hear). Calling for careful spending cuts, investment in education and innovation, and responsible taxations; identifying the role of government in promoting entrepreneurship, upward mobility, and personal responsibility--I would like to hear what he'd say after hearing Obama promote those very same values.

Me, Too! The Tea Party Wants to Talk Too!: Michele Bachmann

The Style: I realize that it's completely sexist to kick of my analysis of her speech by criticizing her appearance, but: Girlfriend looks creepy. But it's not just the face paint and the crack eyes. It's her stiff demeanor and out-of-shot gaze, like a flight attendant demonstrating how to inflate your flotation vest. And she had visual aids.

The Substance: It's a bad idea to slip in mentions to Obama promises "just like the ones we heard him make this evening" when we know your speech was prepared before "this evening" and you're about to bitch about what you were absolutely sure he was going to emptily promise. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil? Rolling back taxes and regulations that make it hard for small businesses and job creators? Medical malpractice reform? It's in there. And by getting so royally pissed off about something you don't even know he said makes you sound irrational and reactionary and… well-played, Michele.

I don't know the solution to this. To give the opposition time to prepare a response to the actual content of the SOTU, you'd have to air that response the next day--at which point no one will be watching anymore. The alternative would be to put them on immediately after the SOTU, and as someone who's had to deliver speeches with fifteen minutes' notice and three hand-scribbled notecards, I know it's hard to work on that kind of a deadline and still have a cohesive message that doesn't leave out any pertinent ideas. (Of course, I won awards for it, but that's neither here nor there.)

I know this will be a wholly despised suggestion, but I'd be willing to give another half-hour of primetime air--across the networks--the evening following the SOTU to hear a good response from the opposition. Wednesday night at 8:30: "The Middle," "Live to Dance," "American Idol," "Minute to Win It." Want to know what J.Lo is wearing this week? Big hair, big boobs, nude lip, heavy eye. Sparkles. Now someone give Paul Ryan a beer and Michele Bachmann a good scrubbing, and let's talk about some progress.

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