So far we have focused on whether or not the annual State of the Union address has relevance to the idea of not just informing the nation about a current President’s views on how the nation is faring, but if it can be used as a tool to reaching common ground. The same questions can be raised regarding the rebuttal exercise that the minority party follows the speech with each year.
This year the Democrats chose not one, not two but four ways to rebut the speech and two alternate responses cropped up as well. These included three televised “formal” responses from Congressman Joe Kennedy (network and cable), Congresswoman Maxine Waters (on BET) and newly elected Virginia delegate Elizabeth Guzman (Telemundo, CNN en Espanol and Univision). Senator Bernie Sanders used his YouTube live stream honed during the recent election to provide the Progressive view. Two non-Democratic party Donna Edwards, a former Congresswoman now running for county executive in Maryland, responded on behalf of the Working Families Party (not technically a Democrat response) and president of NARAL-Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue also spoke.
Keep in mind that Republicans responded to President Obama four different ways back in 2014 with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers giving the official response, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., giving the Spanish-language version and Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky both speaking for the Tea Party coalition.
Looking at relevance and impact, the history of the rebuttals has been fraught with unforced errors as rising stars are often selected to make the response and rather than focusing on their views get derailed by morning after gifs and memes about water bottles and Chapstick and if these up and comers withstood the pressure of a national audience.
This year, as well as using 2014 as an example, the evidence of unity on the party of the responding party was lacking. Different wings and bases of the parties are given the chance to state their position. Obviously consensus is missing.
Given the above, do the responses to the State of the Union contribute in any way to reaching common ground for the minority party? If people are more focused on the cult of personalities and are fodder for the social media amusement, what benefit do we derive from the response? And in general regarding the response and the main address being rebutted, if people are using these speeches as material for their own variety hour, the question of whether or not any of the speeches matter probably has been answered for a segment of the population.
Where then do we go as a citizenry from here? In the next few days we will discuss that question.