Last night, the MOMocrats hosted a live blog of the State of the Union address and the Republican response. It was an inspiring speech by Obama and, I think, one of his best. The Republican response, however, had me out of my seat hollering at the TV, and not in a good way.
The State of the Union is, I think, a marvelous example of how inspiring our political system can be. I never fail to be moved when I hear the Congressional Cryer yell, "Madame (or Mister) Speaker, the President of the United States!" It doesn't matter whether the President in question is a Republican or a Democrat; it's always a thrilling experience. The State of the Union is required by Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution, which states, "He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient...." Since 1790, the State of the Union has been delivered approximately every 12 months.
All members of Congress, from both sides of
the aisle, are present, as are some of the Supreme Court justices, the
Joint Chiefs of Staff and the President's Cabinet, with the exception
of the designated survivor.
(As an interesting side note, the designated survivor for last night's
address was Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban
Development.) While Congress invites the President to attend, it is
typical for the White House to invite guests as well. Last night,
several military service and family members were in the box with Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden.
There are many perks to being President, one
of which is having the military and military backdrops at your
command. This use of the military and its service members as props
became much more common during the term of George W. Bush. The most
prominent being Bush's landing on an aircraft carrier and then speaking
with a huge "Mission Accomplished" banner in the background.
Make no mistake, the State of the Union, while definitely a political event, is not a partisan political event. The Joint Chiefs of Staff and invited military guests attend as part of their service to our country. The
rebuttal to the State of the Union is another animal entirely. It is
completely partisan, begun only in 1966 and traditionally given by a
representative from the party not currently occupying the White House.
Virginia Governor (of only 11 days) Bob McDonnell gave the Republican response from the Virginia capitol building in Richmond. McDonnell had an audience of mostly regular people. (Oh, and some Virginia Republican legislators. Bob apparently failed to invite any Democrats until about 2 hours before the drop dead RSVP time on the afternoon of the speech.) There were even people behind McDonnell on risers as if it were a political rally. The setting was a smart move on the part of Republican strategists. It gave McDonnell and audience responding to him, giving the speech a much more "official" and emotional appeal than canned studio speeches given in the past.
The content of McDonnell's speech was not surprising. It was rendered somewhat irrelevant by most of President Obama's speech, but that tends to be par for the course when you're responding to a speech you haven't yet read or viewed, with pre-loaded teleprompters. Plus, I read the rebuttal before the State of the Union began, so I knew what was coming. No, what surprised me was the individual sitting behind McDonnell and to our left.