Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 29, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

THE REBUTTAL....Dana Goldstein didn't think much of the Democratic rebuttal to the State of the Union address:

I had been excited about Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' official Democratic rejoinder, but her speech left me cold. It relied on feel-good platitudes over any real, specific critique of President Bush. An entire passage on S-CHIP failed to mention that Bush had vetoed the legislation, denying 10 million children health care. Is there any easier shot to take? Is there any more important domestic issue in America today? And on the war, Sebelius simply did not say it should end....This rhetoric felt like a time machine back to 2004. Don't we now know enough and aren't we tough enough to critique the surge happy-talk?

Well, let's face it: these things usually suck. It's just the nature of the medium: one person, stuck all alone in a cramped room, droning on to the camera. After the pomp and applause and excitement of even a routine State of the Union address, it's almost impossible for the response to be anything but soporific.

But there was even more to it this time. Unless I miss my guess, Sebelius was trying to sound like Barack Obama, talking about unity, bipartisanship, ending the rancor in DC, etc. But guess what? Unless you've got the gift for it, that kind of stuff just sounds weak and mushy. The format and timing of the rebuttal puts the speaker at a disadvantage regardless, but there's no need to make it worse by attempting a triple axel and flubbing it. Obama has the rare talent of making that kind of rhetoric sound soaring, but lesser souls should know their limits and stick to standard speechifying.

Kevin Drum 12:44 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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Comments

Obama's own SOTU response is .

Posted by: MNPundit on January 29, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Son of a.... it's HERE.

Posted by: MNPundit on January 29, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

I imagine much of America switched that off after a minute or two, yes. Remarkably passionless. And she did seem like she tying into all of Obama's themes. (VPifying herself perhaps.)

Posted by: Robert S. on January 29, 2008 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

I like Jim Webb's approach: Republicans are a bunch of bat-shit crazy warmongers and we need to push them off the nearest ledge. Why can't Democrats unzip, throw some goddamned nads on the table and dare the wingnuts to have at it?

Posted by: steve duncan on January 29, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Webb last year rocked. But they are incredibly tough, and seem more likely to damage a politician than to help him/her.

Why not give them a crowd? Throw some Democratic staffers in the room? Or, heck, hold a press conference instead, with real reporters asking some designated speaker questions about the speech, how the Democratic vision is different, etc. There's no rule to this thing.

Posted by: JoshA on January 29, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I don't know what you're talking about. I listened to the Democratic response, and it sounded fine to me even though I disagreed with her positions. Not every speech has to be about attacking the opponent over and over again. If we wanted that, we could've listened to Hillary give the response. But we don't want that, and that's why Sebelius' response was good. Listening to you, I get the feeling you still don't understand why Barack Obama is so popular.

Posted by: Al on January 29, 2008 at 12:57 PM | PERMALINK

>>Unless you've got the gift for it, that kind of stuff just sounds weak and mushy.

No, it always sounds weak and mushy. That's why Obama sucks.

Posted by: jon on January 29, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure someone has mentioned this before, but we ought to let John Stewart do it -- or at least let his writers draft it, and let someone like Chris Rock deliver it.

Posted by: Econobuzz on January 29, 2008 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

I really hate to go off-topic, but every time I try to access your page, I get redirected to Adbaaz.com. Some things I have been reading online point to outdated web advertisement code on a web page being the issue. Is it possible to have your web guys look at blogads or adverlets to make sure they are working correctly? I like reading your blog, but I am having difficulty when I have to click the "stop loading" button at just the precise moment in order to do so.

Sorry again.

Posted by: Singularity on January 29, 2008 at 1:00 PM | PERMALINK

They should use slides. Just put a few power point bullet points to talk to.

Ross Perot (who's nuts) did it 1992 - and everyone remembered it.

Businessman do it routinely.

Research backs up that people understand more what they see than what they hear.

But for some reason, politicians just still get up and blab.

Still a mystery to me why they don't use visual aids a heck of a lot more.

Posted by: Samuel Knight on January 29, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

I loved Jim Webb's Democratic response. That one was slam dunk, and the closing line was classic.

Too bad the Democrats didn't really follow up on it too much, but details, details...

Posted by: Boorring on January 29, 2008 at 1:01 PM | PERMALINK

I doubt many people were sober after the SOTU. Probably passed out after all the "9/11", "nooklear", and "[random Bushism]", etc...

Having said that, Gov. Sebelius took some underhanded swipes that we've been accustomed to by our Dems. Not all that surprising, but a lot to be desired.

Posted by: Zap Rowsdower on January 29, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks for the linnk to Obama's statement.

Very tough. The onnly quote I've seen any where was the one about ending the demonizinng and that quote was misconstrued as a defense of Republicans or blaming of Democrats. There really isn't any ambiguity in this speech--it could have been from Edwards. very straighht forward, very populist, very progressive.

Are w really going to pass this guy up for Hillary?

Posted by: wonkie on January 29, 2008 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin wrote: "Sebelius was trying to sound like Barack Obama, talking about unity, bipartisanship, ending the rancor in DC, etc. But guess what? Unless you've got the gift for it, that kind of stuff just sounds weak and mushy."

It sounds weak and mushy when Obama says it, too. But at least he pumps it up with "soaring rhetoric" (which soars because it is lighter than air). Sebelius sounded not only weak and mushy, but whiny and pleading.

"Unity, bipartisanship and ending the rancor in DC" is the Democratic Party's way of reassuring America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc. that Democrats in power won't try to fundamentally change anything.

Ralph Nader was right that corporate rule is so entrenched, that the grip of corporate money on the government is so powerful, that it cannot be shaken by simply replacing a Republican administration with a Democratic administration.

Nader was wrong, however, to assert that there is "no difference" between the Democrats and the Republicans. The Democrats espouse a more humane, "kinder and gentler" corporate rule, in which the interests of ordinary people (the bottom 99 percent) are given at least some consideration, and they are permitted to enjoy at least a very small sliver of the pie, rather than scrabbling around on the floor for whatever crumbs may fall.

That's not a huge difference, but it's not nothing, and it's the best we can hope for if the Democrats should gain the White House while retaining their majorities in the Congress.


Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 29, 2008 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

Her demeanor was so flat it was like listening to the sea is a seashell-- one big woosh. Try as I might, I couldn't distinguish her words, because her affect blurred them all into one big flatline. It was like she was on drugs. Like she took too much anti-anxiety meds.

Webb was pumped and really made the most of the lesser platform. But yeah, I'd bet when the Rethuglicons are doing it they hold a whole counter rally at a NASCAR event, and that the networks break away to cover it. the Dems should have crushed the fucker, and showed zero tolerance for the bullshit oozing out of the prez and fluffed by the evil doers who celebrate him.

Posted by: Trypticon on January 29, 2008 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

"It's just the nature of the medium: one person, stuck all alone in a cramped room, droning on to the camera. After the pomp and applause and excitement of even a routine State of the Union address, it's almost impossible for the response to be anything but soporific."

Yes! Why, why, why do they do this year after year?!? Why don't they get a cheering crowd to give the speech to?

Posted by: EmmaAnne on January 29, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Seculara Animist--please follow the link and then assess mushiness.

Annyway, my fav, Edwards insn't gonng to get the nomination, so I can't see that there is any purpose at all to the endless bitching about Obama. Most of the bitching is just repeating the Clinont campaignn's talking points. And in every respect Clinont is worse thanObama. She is less progressive onnthe issues, shhe sold us ouut when we really needed her, she still thinks the center of politics is to her left when it is to her righht, she wouuldnn't be running on the positions shhe's on now if she didnn't have to compete withh Edwards and Obama and she is at the most optimistic only marginally electable.

So what do you gainn by running down Obama? All you are doing is streerin people toward the less progressive annd less electable alternative.

We aren't choosing ann President . We are choosinng a candidate. it is childish to thhinnk that one can get the perfect candidate for onne's prediclictions. So Obama isnn't your style. So what?

BTW a group of lawyers for Guantanamo detainees signned a letter endorsing Obama because they feel thhat he did more to try to restore habeas corpus than anyone else in the Senate.

Yhat's how musy Obama is. And where was Clinton?

Posted by: wonkie on January 29, 2008 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Was Sebelius on a heavy dose of some sort of mood stabilizer? I couldn't even listen to the substance with that kind of delivery. Bush's head was placed on the T-ball stand for this last SOTU address, and she whiffed big time.

Posted by: Tom in Houston on January 29, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Obama has the rare talent of making that kind of rhetoric sound soaring, but lesser souls should know their limits and stick to standard speechifying.

The more I hear from Obama, the more I'm convinced that the core of his "eloquence", such as it is, is really in delivery per se.

I have never been able to read his speeches and feel anything but wonder about where the really good part is supposed to be. (I contrast this to reading speeches by Lincoln or MLK - where it's often nearly impossible to find segments where the rhetoric even on the page is moving).

I conclude it must be in the delivery, therefore. And, constitutionally, that's never enough for me. I keep reading the text internally even as it gets spoken.

I guess I just can't hear the Sirens.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

AND ANOTHER THING . . . . When the dems give red state democrats significant spokesperson/leader responsibilities, should we really expect firebrand rhetoric and bare-knuckled challenges to the other side? Webb may be the only exception to this rule, which also may help explain Harry Reid's weak-kneed "leadership."

Posted by: Tom in Houston on January 29, 2008 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

wonkie,
You say that Obama is more progressive than Clinton on all of the issues. Can you me a quick rundown, because I don't believe that is the case. I have to vote on Feb 5, and I'm still in the undecided camp.

The only issue that I've seen Obama to the left of Clinton on is Iraq. Their Senate votes are very similar, however I was impressed that Clinton came out first to support the recent FISA filibuster.

Posted by: DR on January 29, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

Oops, I meant,

where it's often nearly impossible to find segments where the rhetoric, even on the page, is not moving.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

I was beginning to doze-off during the SOTU and I finished the job during the response: ZZZZZZZZZZ

Can't these things be a little more exciting - with punchy words, graphics, and a little something for the kids (I mean, most people I know barely have the attention span to last a short elevator ride much less endure the seemingly-endless drone from a politician, but I guess if you've lasted until the end of the SOTU, you've definitely decided to forgo the MTV for something a little more substantive - ha, here's me calling Bush's ramblings substantive)?

In any case, now we'll have to stomach the Republican response for the next eight years. It'll be fun to chide them for their boring response presentations...

Posted by: rusrus on January 29, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

As a Hillary supporter, I have to say I'm more than a lttle pissed off that the rebuttal was given to a relatively unknown Governor the day before she's going to endorse Obama. WTF?

Posted by: ChrisO on January 29, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Gov. Sebelius was either channeling Lloyd Bentson or Harold Lloyd. I am not sure which, as they all had thin lips. My spouse asked me a question about something she said about half way through, but I had already stopped listening. We did discuss whether her hair was natural or dyed silver grey, though. My opinion was dyed.

Posted by: Brojo on January 29, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Are w really going to pass this guy up for Hillary?

Very likely, because everyone just knows that 'beating Republicans' means conceding on policy while being combative in the media, instead of Obama's reverse approach.

Posted by: latts on January 29, 2008 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Obama IS mushy, and inexperienced.
Beside being black and therefore (lamentably) unelectable in this country

Clinton's negative's are way too high, and the press has a hard-on to replay the Monica-90's.

It's clear that the corporate-controlled media's long knives have been out for Edwards from the start, and it's mission accomplished.

Only us Democrats would be stupid enough to nominate a black man or a woman when we have the best chance of winning the presidency since 1976.

Say hello to President Romney.

Posted by: steveconga on January 29, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

As a Hillary supporter, I have to say I'm more than a lttle pissed off that the rebuttal was given to a relatively unknown Governor the day before she's going to endorse Obama. WTF?

To add your WTF, I find myself wondering how she might have presumed to throw Obama talking points into her rhetoric in an address supposed to represent all Democrats.

But, of course, IOKIYO.

Posted by: frankly0 on January 29, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Not only was the speech weakly worded, I was fairly sure the Gov'ner fell asleep twice while she delivered it. I have to wonder if there was something wrong with the teleprompter or if the people of kansas found her voice so soothing they were forced to elect her Govenor. I mean, that was probably the worst speech I've ever seen.

Posted by: Nobcentral on January 29, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

"Unless you've got the gift for it, that kind of stuff just sounds weak and mushy."

It sounds week and mushy because it is weak and mushy.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on January 29, 2008 at 1:45 PM | PERMALINK

The timing of the endorsement works the other way. Sebelius has been on slate to give this speech for a while. Once she decided to endorse Obama, they wisely held it for today to maximize effect. It is a smart move by Obama that has nothing to do with the DNC.

Posted by: Mark on January 29, 2008 at 1:53 PM | PERMALINK

I like Econobuzz's idea. Let John Stewart do it. We know far enough in advance what Bush is going to say for them to have their usual devastating response.

Posted by: anandine on January 29, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

I mean, that was probably the worst speech I've ever seen.

i conclude you don't get out much.

these responses show how insular we political wonks can get. not only was sebelius's delivery far less wooden and hokey than those of previous dem responders tim kaine, harry reid, and gary locke, she also gave a speech that wasn't written for us. it was written for average voters who polls consistently show are less interested in or even turned off by the kind of fiery verbal attacks we here would love to see.

not an outstanding speech. but acceptably delivered and certainly no worse than the crap dished up by tim, harry, and gary in the same role. and nancy pelosi, for that matter.

Posted by: as it unfolds on January 29, 2008 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Yes! Why, why, why do they do this year after year?!? Why don't they get a cheering crowd to give the speech to? -EmmaAnne

Good point. I wonder if there is some "rule" someplace that tells them they have to do it this way? The contrast from all the scripted applause points in the SOTU is really bad.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on January 29, 2008 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

She's my governor, and while she's not an especially dynamic speaker, she usually doesn't sound so medicated. But that seems to be the rule with these things-Webb last year was the exception.

Posted by: Chris on January 29, 2008 at 2:24 PM | PERMALINK

Kev wrote:

Well, let's face it: these things usually suck.

That's pretty cold comfort. Let's face it: How hard is it, really, to invite Al Franken, Paul Krugman, and Steve Benen (maybe Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, too) to sit around for pizza once a year, and take notes on this thing, with some Democrats looking over their shoulders to offer some points-- and then pick one speech-gifted Democrat who paid particular attention to the process to deliver this thing?

It's incredibly important to our "product," so to speak, and to our continuing success, to take every chance we get to speak to the public and to make the absolute most of it.

Posted by: Swan on January 29, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Let me second a previous comment. There's no need to have a lonely talking head in a room. Even Obama's remarks fell flat, as far as I'm concerned, because we was, essentially, speaking to no one, with no one to react to. Do a rally. Have some Democratic voters there. Make it a speech, to a live audience. Have some excitement and electricity in the room. Is that so hard? Or too far outside the box?

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on January 29, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Thomas Jefferson submitted his State of the Union message (as required by the U.S. Constitution) in writing, and eschewed these meaningless speeches before Congress, which typically don't amount to a popcorn fart. Woodrow Wilson revived the idiotic sessions we all now have to suffer through and I damn him to Hell for that.

I, for one, can no longer watch the Retard from Crawford mangle the English language and share his shit-eating smirk with the American people. Then, to have the Congressional Democrats cravenly applaud a man who isn't qualified to pump gas at a Texaco station and really should be in a federal prison is really too much to bear. They should have sat and gave him the finger throughout the whole speech...

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on January 29, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

My 13-year old daughter chimed in from the kitchen after only about 30 seconds of Gov. Sebelius droning on... "this sounds like one of those tapes you listen to when you want to fall asleep." Out of the mouths of babes...and it never got any better, either.

Tone and delivery matter as much or more than content, when will Democrats ever learn??? The American public deserves to see, even wants to Democrats getting mad-as-hell like they're not-going-to-take-it-anymore, Howard Beale in Network-style! I was flabbergasted at the loss of opportunity - the Democrats come across looking like limp noodles...it's a good thing for Democrats that we're in a two-party system, because they laid an egg last night.

Posted by: John Cooper on January 29, 2008 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Hey why didn't you link to Obama's with some snarky comment like: "It was so bad Barack Obama posted his own response here. I guess this will quiet down talk of Sibelius as VP material. Hat tip to MNPundit."

I demand my fleeting instant of internet fame!

/snark

Posted by: MNPundit on January 29, 2008 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

Latts read my mind: "because everyone just knows that 'beating Republicans' means conceding on policy while being combative in the media, instead of Obama's reverse approach."

Posted by: TSB on January 29, 2008 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Make it a speech, to a live audience.

Didn't Christine Todd-Whitman do this after one of the Clinton SOTU addresses? I seem to remember it being done in the NJ statehouse or something. It worked pretty well.

Posted by: ao on January 29, 2008 at 4:24 PM | PERMALINK

the DNC should commission a YouTube contest for the next response.


Ooops. Sorry.

The RNC should commission a YouTube contest for the next response.

Posted by: jayackroyd on January 29, 2008 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

Ditto on James Webb. I though we would be hearing more from him. Maybe he was too good and got ostracized by the Washington club.

Posted by: Luther on January 29, 2008 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

Feel-good platitudes? From the Democrats? I'm shocked, shocked.

Posted by: Lindsey Eck on January 29, 2008 at 7:47 PM | PERMALINK

Any Democrat who worries about "partisanship" had best retire. There are plenty of ways of emphasizing the damage the Republicans have done to this country without threatening them, their children and their pets. Simply repeating the illegal actions of the present mal-Administration would have been preferable. (We can save the threats for the actual campaign).

Posted by: Doug on January 29, 2008 at 7:50 PM | PERMALINK

Sebelius wasn't trying to sound like Obama, she went the Michael Bloomberg route by asking "Will you join us Mr. President?". I don't hear Obama asking Bush to come along, I hear him asking the public to push Bush aside and forge their own path, be them Dem, Ind, Repub or other. Sebelius' weak response was exactly what's wrong with the Dem party at the moment, too much trying to hold the hand of the person that bitch slaps you on a daily basis rather than finding a new way to get things done.

Posted by: tom.a on January 29, 2008 at 8:07 PM | PERMALINK

What about Jim Webb last year?

Posted by: Matt Lantz on January 29, 2008 at 8:46 PM | PERMALINK

I live in Kansas. Democrats make up 34% of the voting electorate. Progressive Democrats make up about 1/2 of that 34%. Sebilius has had to govern as a "moderate" (if there is such an animal) Republican. She will avoid taking positions on most issues until she knows which way the political winds are blowing. She governs "mushy."

Posted by: Kstan on January 29, 2008 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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