I had to sit there and watch Joe Biden fumble his way through the State of the Union speech last night so I could write an American Spectator column about it, and you can read that here if you want. It was a bad night for the country for a couple of reasons – first, Biden’s 73-minute drone-a-thon, in which he flubbed several key lines and humiliated the country in the process, gave off the impression of a listless, leaderless America. That was depressing.
What wasn’t a whole lot better was the over-the-top reception given to Biden. On a half-dozen occasions Biden was jeered by Republican senators and House members in the chamber, and while that was understandable given some of the things he said it just wasn’t a good look. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, in particular, was too much. One time yelling “Liar!” at Biden was enough; doing it repeatedly is bad politics and worse optics for the country.
Unless we decide we’re going to have the British Parliament instead of the U.S. Congress, in which case State of the Union speeches will become de facto debates, and in that case maybe it wouldn’t be a terrible thing.
But breaking decorum looks bad both ways. Presidents shouldn’t be making partisan campaign speeches at the SOTU, and the opposition doesn’t need to turn the annual address into Showtime at the Apollo, either.
There’s enough blame to go around. Nothing about that spectacle last night was any good.
On the other hand, the official response to a SOTU is usually a regrettable affair – the politician giving the official response is on a lot smaller stage than the House podium, and those optics offer a big disadvantage. At times the opposition will try to counter that by filling up a statehouse with college kids or whatever and attempt to simulate a presidential address; it usually doesn’t work.
So this time, the GOP just gave the microphone to Sarah Sanders, the new governor of Arkansas who spent the first part of Donald Trump’s presidential term as the White House press secretary. She’s a solid speaker, and she had a hell of a good speech to give.
Sanders isn’t overly telegenic, and she isn’t a bombastic orator. But she speaks with a clarity and a cadence that hits home in a way Joe Biden can’t deliver.
The best line of the counter-address came early when she said the choice isn’t between right and left anymore but rather sanity or insanity. Most Americans get that whether they like Republicans or not.
But she nails another point – Biden’s weakness. Sanders notes he won’t defend our borders or our skies, something that spy balloon controversy made top-of-mind for the whole country.
It’s a great counter, simply delivered. And you get the impression that Sanders, who’s only 40 years old, has a chance to eventually give a speech on this night from the podium in the House chamber on Capitol Hill.