Let’s drop the SOTU responses

Let’s be honest: the state of the union response is not strong, nor is it necessary.

This is not a slam against newly minted U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst. In fact, I’m just following her lead.

“It wasn’t about responding to the State of the Union or President [Barack] Obama as it was responding to the concerns of Iowans and other Americans,” Ernst told reporters on a conference call the morning after she delivered the official 2015 Republican speech.

I say “official” response because Ernst was chosen by Republican Congressional leadership. But there were at least four additional GOP responses to President Barack Obama’s address.

  • Carlos Cubelo, a newly elected Republican congressman from Miami, Fla., was supposed to offer Ernst’s speech in Spanish, inserting his personal details in place of hers. He went off script by adding a paragraph supporting immigration reforms, something Ernst did not include.
  • Curt Clawson, also a Florida-elected congressman, provided the tea party viewpoint.
  • Ted Cruz, the colorful junior senator from Texas considered a 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, posted a video response on YouTube before deleting it and reposting a corrected version.
  • Rand Paul, another 2016 presidential hopeful and junior senator from Kentucky, also uploaded a response video and further engaged supporters on additional social media sites like twitter.

Why so many are clamoring for their moment in this particular hot seat remains a mystery. SOTU responses are mostly forgettable, except when they are an embarrassment.

Few people, for instance, remember the substance of the 2013 response delivered by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) or know that it was historic because he was the first Hispanic person to do so and because he delivered it for the first time in both English and Spanish. Nearly everyone, however, remembers his frequently clutched water bottle.

Although the most recent responses in our memory banks are of botched responses by Republicans, bumbling hardly stops at party lines. For evidence, please view then-Gov. Bill Clinton and the Democratic response infomercial produced in the 1980s.

Responses are inherently awkward, the most recent being shot in some darkened and heavily flagged Washington, D.C. office, all lacking the historical value of the headline show.

Perhaps there was a time when a clearly voiced opposition party response was needed — back when most Americans were limited to three television networks and didn’t have YouTube and social media at their fingertips. Now they are inherently risky political propositions that dim the light of rising stars and add little to the national conversation.

Relatively speaking, Ernst knocked it out of the park.

Yes, she took criticism from both sides of the political aisle — “Ernst sounds like she’s reading a speech instead of delivering a speech,” tweeted former Romney aide Avik Roy — but with no blunders bigger than a bread bag and more populist rhetoric than strategy or policy points, Ernst’s national moment was safely forgettable.

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Jan. 24, 2015.