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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The hardest job in politics: Giving the rebuttal to the State of the Union address

I'm not that big on State of the Union addresses.

The first one a president gives while in office is important because it sets the tone for his presidency. And the ones after a major event, such as the 9-11 attacks, are huge because they galvanize the nation. All the others seem to be perfunctory, an exercise in political showmanship. That's not to disparage the event itself, given that it is required to be done, though not necessarily in a nationally-televised speech.

It's just that the wild clapping by the party in the White House and the sitting on the hands of the opposition during contentious moments has always seemed odd to me. And it still does.

Update: Apparently Justice Scalia and I agree on something else.

The one thing that surprised me last night from President Barack Obama's speech last night was his call for a hike in the minimum wage.

That's a direct shot at poverty, an issue that has gotten short-changed for several years now. It highlights something that more of us need to realize, that our problem is not inequality, it is low and stagnant wages. If the folks at the bottom and middle of the economic scale experience a growth in wages - which would help the economy overall - it wouldn't matter how much the richest among us make, even if their wealth and salary continue to rise as well. It's not that the rich make too much; it is that the poor and middle class make too little.

But the biggest takeaway from last night was, yes, the awkward moment during Sen. Marco Rubio's rebuttal. Rubio is an extremely articulate, smart, rising political star who, in my mind, gave the top speech at the Republican National Convention last summer. Every time I've seen him on the national stage, he has shined, even when I disagreed with some of what he was saying. Given that, if the pressure to follow the president got to him, it could get to anyone.

Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who gave the rebuttal recently, seemed to have it right. Instead of standing alone in front of a TV camera, he stood in front of a crowd, a much more natural setting, and his speech came across better because of it.

A word to the wise: If you are ever asked to give the rebuttal to the SOTU, do it McDonnell's way.

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