Dating back to 1966, when Sen. Everett Dirkson (R-IL) and Rep. Gerald Ford (R-MI) first appeared on television to counter President Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union speech, the opposition’s response has taken various formats.
While responses have ranged from one legislator countering the president to group responses and, in 1972, in unusual style, a response in the form of a call-in show, the tone has remained judicious, but eternally adhering to the plank of the party outside the White House.
Following Mr. Obama’s address to Congress on Tuesday evening, Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina chose an unconventional response which illustrated independence and rejected succumbing to an official’s traditional demons: Lust for power and a desire to expand name recognition in front of a prime-time national TV audience.
To the contrary, Haley articulated a governing vision and delivered a rebuke to her own party by demanding the GOP acknowledge its part in the endless broken promises and the seemingly intractable legislative impasse which incapacitates Washington D.C., and creates an atmosphere of indignation outside the capitol.
Ignoring unfounded opprobrium hurled at Haley earlier in the week by the DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, the governor proceeded with unaffected modesty and grace to demand good fellowship from all legislators and appealed to members of both chambers to become real-life practitioners of responsible, benevolent policy benefiting millions of Americans found wanting.
Underlining a myriad of crucial issues, Haley did not hesitate to find fault with Mr. Obama’s diction and immediately contradicted the president’s rosy outlook on the economy. Countering the president’s claim skeptics “peddle fiction” on the condition of the economy, Haley reminded viewers of the far from pleasant circumstances in which many continue to toil and accentuated the persistent burden of national debt, runaway spending and relentless wage stagnation.
Without delay, Haley implicated the president for failure of or lack of a strategy to blunt ISIS, a blinding problem the president prefers to manage with ill-considered half measures instead of solving.
The apex of Haley’s response came when she gently and deftly broached politicians’ practice of exploiting fervid rhetoric: In a moment of truth and with bracing intellectual honesty, Haley warned of the deleterious consequences of influencing masses on sensitive issues in our politically-polarized age, cautioned the audience to disregard bombast, and encouraged officials and candidates to mitigate their words.
On immigration, Haley argued our country’s best traditions must overthrow fear and resentment, appealing for an immigration policy which does not break the bonds of affection with foreigners seeking refuge from strife and who do not pose a threat to our security.
Haley’s response, however, was not without shortcomings. Although a rebuttal of a State of the Union speech is not conceived to outline specifics of policy, it does allocate adequate time to offer some insight into the opposition’s alternatives to the president’s policies.
At every critical moment in her rebuttal, particularly when mentioning education, healthcare, respecting modern family structures, interpretation of the Second and Tenth Amendments or renewed relationships with formerly implacable foes, Haley never hinted at a meaningful counter-proposal by the GOP. In contrast, Haley abided by vague references to reform and spur innovation.
One blunder, on healthcare, was particularly glaring: The GOP has attempted to rollback ObamaCare in excess of 60 times; Haley offered only stale and unoriginal language on how to construct a healthcare policy which would make the system more affordable and physicians more available.
Viewers are entitled to alternatives to Mr. Obama’s 59-minute finger-wagging; Haley did not expand on options.
To be fair, one could characterize Mrs. Haley’s response to be filled with bromides and language resembling a typical Southerner clutching a deep and abiding resentment of federalism. However, instead of assailing the president’s record as bereft of actual accomplishments and his governing strategy as empty, directionless and confused, she preferred to use her address to insist on introspection from her own party and admitted collective shame.
In doing so, Haley revealed herself to be a woman of consequence and character and reminded the GOP they need to become a party of ideas. At the least, South Carolina’s governor deserves a round of applause for lecturing her own party.
[Politico] [NPR] [Washington Post] [Photo courtesy ixnnews]