A Smarter Response to the State of the Union Address

After the election, I saw several Republicans discussing who should deliver the SOTU response speech.

No one should.

First, any speech is bound to suffer by comparison to a speech before a joint session of Congress, with the Supreme Court in attendance.  Republicans tried to capture some of the same spirit by having Bob McDonnell speak before a small crowd of supporters in the Virginia House of Delegates chamber, but if you can’t match the pomp and grandeur of the president, try to avoid a direct comparison.

Not only is the venue working against you, but the president is a nationally-elected official; no member of the opposition can have the same stature.  Appearing to try to match the president’s status just plays to his strengths.

And finally, a speech, to be delivered immediately after the president’s carefully-planned opening move, puts the responder at a disadvantage.  Since the response speech is written without knowing exactly what the president is going to say, what is supposed to be a criticism of the president’s speech or agenda is relayed in vague terms, not pointed responses.  A prepared speech can only talk past the president, appearing deaf to what the president just said in the marquee event.

This precious free airtime could be spent dismantling the president’s argument, then pivoting to counterattack and providing alternatives.

How can the opposition do this?

Take advantage of the fact that they have fewer restraints.

First, make it a table discussion with more than one responder.  As a suggestion, include at least one governor to remind the audience that there are independent sources of authority, laboratories of policy that should retain their power to handle local problems (a big-city mayor could also do), and also include a legislator representing the opposition in Congress to directly address the president’s agenda on the federal level.

This also takes the pressure off of any one person to speak for the party, and signals that the opposition is having a frank conversation, not speaking press-release style through the great filter of lawyers and focus-group-tested language.  Make good use of stars like Paul Ryan and Chris Christie who have shown they’re champs at off-the-cuff communication and aren’t afraid to take on big issues.  Bobby Jindal would have been far better suited to this than talking into a camera solo.

Second, use resources the president doesn’t have.  The president is limited by the tradition of giving his speech in the chamber of the House of Representatives, which only affords him a microphone, a teleprompter and an audience.  Instead of trying to beat the president at his own game, use a modern-looking studio, where the responders can make use of supporting staff and visual aids like charts and video.

And this extra content should come from a well-coordinated rapid-response team who provide ammunition for the response.

  • The model for responding to a speech in progress is liveblogging.  Certain people, by some mix of expertise, encyclopedic memory and quick wit, have proven they can tear apart a carefully-crafted speech in real time.  Identify these people—bloggers, political operatives, think-tankers—and (with their advance permission) borrow their best arguments and lines.
  • A media team would be responsible for matching the president’s remarks to earlier video and quotes from the president, his advisers and top congressional allies that contradicted the president’s SOTU message.  Anyone with a good memory and a well-ordered catalogue of video and/or transcripts can do this.  What could be more damaging than showing that the speech just delivered contained flip-flops?
  • To respond to specific policy proposals and claims, have a team of stat junkies, economists and others who can call up relevant charts and other visuals to help the responders on-screen.

This kind of rapid counter-offensive would be much more entertaining than the president’s exhausting, conventional address, giving viewers a good reason to stick around afterward.  And it would be much more effective than current efforts like sending out fact-check emails and post-speech press releases, the contents of which are read by only a tiny minority of people who saw the speech.

Don’t play to the president’s strengths. Use your own, leveraging all the media available to you that the president doesn’t have.

Obama, A Man For All Audiences.

With a Presidential Approval Index of -21, Democrat Congressmen running for the hills, or at least, somewhere that he can’t perform his grim reaper act on their re-election chances, and a pathetic, although quite amusing, attempt to appear more centrist, Obama is losing the little credibility that remained.

I used to get quite agitated by his speeches, to put it mildly. Shock, horror, disbelief, annoyance, downright anger… I experienced quite a range of emotions when he filled the gap between teleprompters to announce his ideological, and totally impractical, agenda.

Lately, his speeches have given me some light relief, in much the same way as a recording of ‘sporting bloopers’ or ‘newsreader gaffes’. His carefully choreographed performances only serve to highlight the inconsistencies, untruths and construed electioneering banter that falls upon the ears of his small assembled band of supporters, strategically placed close together in camera shot to give the appearance of a packed house.

Obama’s Labor Day speech in Wisconsin was a classic example. In open-necked shirt, with rolled-up sleeves (that should appeal to the working man, he thought), he proceeded to champion the cause of small business (time to move to the center, he thought) and American industry (that’ll appeal to patriots, he thought).

All well and good, but when has Obama ever done anything that benefits small business, or any size private enterprise for that matter? His latest offering amounts to no more than a feeble attempt to lower the unemployment statistics. If the work isn’t there, due to a combination of lack of disposable income and caution on the part of those that do have a few dollars to spend, companies are not going to recruit, tax breaks or not.

This has been borne out by an increase in productivity figures, where businesses are using a smaller workforce to meet demand. It’s safer, and cheaper, to pay overtime when the work is there, than to support more permanent staff. Increased health care costs, that the employer has to meet, is something they can do without while trying to ride the recession.

Who, given the choice, would not buy American? I actually thought for a while (well, it lasted a few seconds) that the President was on to something… until he came to the punchline. “I don’t want to see solar panels and wind turbines and electric cars made in China,” he said. “I want them made right here in the United States of America.” I nearly fell off my seat laughing. He’ll be attempting sales of solar panels in Wales next, where it is nearly always raining.

When Obama stuck to his core beliefs, as despised as they were by the majority of Americans, he at least had the loyal following of his Marxist cronies and perhaps more than a few moderate Democrats that could be swayed. This ‘pick and mix’ approach to his public persona, a last-ditch attempt at self-preservation, only serves to make him appear foolish and desperate. Perhaps we should book our tickets now for the final act!

(Editor Dee is in for Skip today)

Eerily Familiar

I was listening to a speech tonight; the text is below:

Are you tired of the Democratic party?
Are you tired of the Republican party?
Are you tired of a Congress that does nothing?
Are you tired of having twice as many lobbyists as they’ve ever had before?

Then I...I have an idea.
Don’t vote for the congressman or senators.
You don’t have to vote.
Know how we’re gonna pick ‘em?
The same way we pick a jury.
And you’ll get a more interesting cross section than the folks you got right now.
I guarantee it.

Do you want a better healthcare system?
You have an HMO that says, “We’ll give you Viagra, but we won’t pay for glasses.” So you can have a hard-on, but you can’t see where to put it. We’re gonna change it, aren’t we?

And we’re not just talking liberal or conservative-big-time change.

You know recently, a lot of the past administrations said it’s unpatriotic to question the government. If it was unpatriotic to question the government, we’d still be English! The Boston Tea Party...the Boston Tea Party wasn’t people going, “Oh hello.” It was a lot of guys in Boston going, “Here’s your tea, right here”.

I’m tired of the Democratic party
I’m tired of the Republican party

Here’s what we’re talking about Freedom of Speech and it also comes down to the idea of freedom of religion, the idea of practicing any religion you want, anytime, anywhere. You could be anything. You could be Bewish - Jewish and Buddhist. You sit and you wait for things to go on sale. That’s okay. But that’s what we’re talking about. But occasionally religion crosses over-you have people saying intelligent design, “You must teach intelligent design”. Look at the human body. Is that intelligent? I find it more interesting you have a waste processing plant next to a recreation area.

They always attack environmentalists saying, “You’re a tree hugger”. I go, “No, I’ve done more than hug a tree.” If you find the right naughty pine, you’re gonna have a good night. Oh yeah. “Who’s your woodsman, who’s your woodsman?” I’m not just a tree hugger, I’m an air breather. I’m sorry. It’s bad enough with the squirrels going...”Please help me. I can’t breathe today.” If you put enough chemicals in the water, you’ll be fishing, going, “You know Bob, I love catching them two-headed bass. They’re good eatin’ once you get past the tumors. There’s some good eatin’ out there.”

I’m tired of the Democratic party
Now I’m tired of the Republican party

Now that’s why we’re here–‘cause you want change! Yeah! You wanna shake it up! You have to be eyes wide open, ready to move on! Arm in arm, hand in hand, everybody together, moving forward, because the future is now!

This speech is eerily familiar to what we're hearing on the campaign trail, and indeed this speech was part of a recent campaign--from 2006, in fact. It was given by one Tom Dobbs.

Tom Dobbs, though, doesn't exist except as a character in a Barry Levinson film titled "Man of the Year", starring Robin Williams as the aforementioned Tom Dobbs.

We already know BHO plagiarizes speeches from friends and acquaintenances. We know he doesn't have an original thought in his head. We know he's a relatively eloquent speaker--unless he has no teleprompter. And his eloquence is nothing but a cover for fluff, smoke and mirrors and a complete lack of a platform, full of platitudes but short on solutions.

BHO is the perfect empty suited emperor, mimicking a movie character who, while charismatic and eloquent, was also full of smoke and mirrors while short on actual solutions. Both BHO and Dobbs can whip a crowd into a frenzy like rock stars, yet once the lights are turned off, the crowds have gone home and there's nothing left but the trash on the floor, what have either done to elicit thought? Engage the brain? Have you ruminating about what was said while brushing your teeth?

Sadly, when one tries to think about what was said during a BHO speech (or a Dobbs speech), one must rack their brain to remember anything other than a bunch of noise.

There are no solutions in the speeches. There is no substance. A lot of hype. A lot of feel good rhetoric. Lots of lights, smoke, mirrors, balloons, confetti...but not much else.

At the end of the movie, though, Dobbs is one thing BHO most decidedly ISN'T--honest. After realizing he didn't win the election after all, due to a computer glitch, he rescinds his office (despite advice to the contrary, given by his trusted advisors--who repeatedly tell him no one will know he's not the REAL president unless he blows it and reveals the truth). BHO and Dobbs do seem to have the same advisors.

Go read the Dobbs campaign trail speech again. See how much of BHO's plagiarism you can find. And remember--Dobbs, while fictional, had shady advisors--yet he overcame their bad advice and redeemed himself. BHO will never do so. He revels in being, at the least, a plagiarist--and at the most, a typical, crooked politician.

So much for change and hope.

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