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Tilting at Windmills

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January 28, 2010

AT LEAST HE WAS BETTER THAN JINDAL.... Giving the official response to the State of the Union -- any president's State of the Union -- tends to be the kiss of death for any political figure of note. Given the recent history, I'm generally surprised when anyone even accepts the gig.

Virginia's newly elected governor, Bob McDonnell, made a good decision to offer his response in a better setting -- he spoke from the floor of the Virginia House of Delegates -- though as a friend of mine joked last night, following on the heels of State of the Union, McDonnell more or less came across as the president of a much smaller country.

As for the content, I've been trying to think of something noteworthy to write, but the speech was rather boilerplate. All McDonnell had to do was avoid embarrassing himself the way Bobby Jindal did last year, and I'm confident the Virginian cleared this very low bar.

In terms of substance, McDonnell was pretty conventional. We learned, for example, that when the government takes money out of the economy, it helps create jobs. That doesn't make any sense, but this was the official GOP response, where facts are irrelevant.

But more than anything else, McDonnell's comments on health care stood out.

"All Americans agree, we need a health care system that is affordable, accessible, and high quality. But most Americans do not want to turn over the best medical care system in the world to the federal government.

"Republicans in Congress have offered legislation to reform healthcare, without shifting Medicaid costs to the states, without cutting Medicare, and without raising your taxes.

"We will do that by implementing common sense reforms, like letting families and businesses buy health insurance policies across state lines, and ending frivolous lawsuits against doctors and hospitals that drive up the cost of your healthcare.

"And our solutions aren't thousand-page bills that no one has fully read, after being crafted behind closed doors with special interests."

A few quick things to keep in mind. First, the U.S. system isn't the "best in the world." That's just silly.

Second, the Democratic plan does not turn over medical care to the federal government. McDonnell probably should have looked into this before giving the speech.

Third, the Republican health care plan was a fairly transparent joke. It was an embarrassment to the GOP, not a plan to brag about.

And fourth, while the Republican proposal wasn't a 1,000-page bill "crafted behind closed doors with special interests," it was, in reality, a 700-page bill crafted behind closed doors with special interests.

Media Matters did some additional fact-checking, but on the whole, the address was largely forgettable. Given the history, though, it was largely a pass/fail test, so McDonnell should probably be pleased.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (44)

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it wasn't a "response," it was a platform speech. And he was obviously coached by an infomercial producer. And was it me or was there a clap track overlayed to beef up the intensity of the real applause?

Posted by: hortron on January 28, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

...when the government takes money out of the economy...

This gets said so often despite being meaningless. How do fiscal policies take money out of the economy? It's not like pennies are being stashed in underground caverns, never to be spent again. Or are they???

Posted by: Grumpy on January 28, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

This was my first time listening to McDonnell for more than a few seconds -- and Virginia, I feel your pain.

I think the remarkable thing about his remarks -- and I'm not seeing anyone talking about it this morning -- was not that he used the usual content-free GOP cheerleading slogans, but that he went farther than his speech-respondent predecessors in the blatant Jesus sell. Quoting "scriptures" plus making several other references to god and "god-given" shit -- very heavyhanded, and totally in your face. They're no longer even trying to pretend that the little tent can hold anything other than Christians...as a matter of fact, Christians of their particular brand.

Posted by: shortstop on January 28, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Most revealing line from GOP response last night‏:


"We are blessed here in America with vast natural resources, and we must use them all."


Sounds like a plan....
....then what?

Posted by: Newton Whale on January 28, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

"Second, the Democratic plan does not turn over medical care to the federal government. McDonnell probably should have looked into this before giving the speech."

He knows this, but he laso knows that nobody will challenge him on it and if it is repeated enough voters wuill believe it. See Massachussetts.

Posted by: atlliberal on January 28, 2010 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Not to mention the internally inconsistent defense of medicare along side the government takeover of HC BS.

Posted by: Jay on January 28, 2010 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

I don't know why they bother with the responses at all.

Until they come up with something to say beside the standard GOP talkings points, and that's all that McDonnel's speech was, Republicans simply are not worth listening to.

And, yes, the staging was better than Jindal's (because how could it not be?), but to me it had the feel of a Saturday Night Live sketch, where they do a reasonable approximation of the real setting given their space limitations, but totally unconvincing unless you can completely suspend your sense of disbelief.

Posted by: UncommonSense on January 28, 2010 at 11:03 AM | PERMALINK

"Second, the Democratic plan does not turn over medical care to the federal government. McDonnell probably should have looked into this before giving the speech."

He knows that. He also knows that he won't be challenged on it by reporters, and if it is repeated enough, voters will believe it. See Massachussetts.

When was the last time you saw a journalist challenge the "Government takeover of Health care" line during an interview?

Posted by: atlliberal on January 28, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

OK, following immediately on the heels of the Tweety race trap post, what struck me about McDonnell's response was the black and army guy over his right shoulder and the oriental and white blond lady over his left. A coincidence, I'm sure ;-)

Posted by: Chopin on January 28, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

It was like watching a full-sized GI Joe doll, the ones with strings in their backs... just repeating a worn out recording of nonsense.

If he's a smart guy, or even just a worldly adult, I'm sure he was embarrassed to watch the replay after the fact.

Who's a good boy? You are, McDonnell, you are!

Posted by: Rochester on January 28, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

what amazes me is that it is a state secret where the US health care system ranks. Obama can't say it; Steve, can even you say it? According to the World Health Organization, US ranks 37th in the world
(Canada ranks 30th).
Link below.

http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on January 28, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Chopin -- going point about the product placement behind him. I almost forgot about that.

The camera would span over the audience of old white guys, then back to him with this young black woman, a young Asian guy, a thick-neck soldier, and this pretty blond. It was so stupidly obvious that I laughed out loud the first time I recognized the placement.

Seriously, where were the Eskimos?

Posted by: Rochester on January 28, 2010 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

I visited the Virginia Capitol a few years ago (along with the oddities like Museum of the Confederacy(?)) and was shocked at how tiny it was. I was also shocked that legislators are "part-time." Isn't running the government important enough that it should be your #1 job when voters give you that responsibility?

Posted by: anonymous on January 28, 2010 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

McDonnell probably should have looked into this before giving the speech.

Why would he do that? It's much harder to be mendacious and dishonest if you actually "look into" these things. It's called plausible deniability.

Posted by: ckelly on January 28, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Listening to a Republican making a speech is like watching Johnny Carson do his Art Fern Tea Time Theater sketch: you can pretty much recite the lines along with the person saying them. With Johnny, it elicited lots of laughs. With Republicans, it should have the same effect.

On a related note, Digby has pointed out that the governor's chosen venue happens to be the site of Jefferson Davis's second inaugural as President of the CSA.

Posted by: scott_m on January 28, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

To me the most interesting response to the SOTU speech was Sam Alito's Joe Wilson moment. That was fun.

Imagine being called out as a radical activist intent on destroying American democracy by the sitting President in the SOTU speech. All talk about judiciall restraint should end now. The radical activist wingnuts running the Supreme Court will be a thorn in America's side for years to come.

Posted by: Ron Byers on January 28, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Saw some jokes about McDonnell's response being the State of the Confederacy speech.

Historical choice of place for that response then.

Posted by: eserwe on January 28, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

Every time McDonnell said "All Americans agee...," I heard "Thirty Helens agree..." Thanks, Kids in the Hall!

Posted by: Cap'n Phealy on January 28, 2010 at 11:21 AM | PERMALINK

I thought the Virginia Democatic Party should sue the governor over the use of the Virginia House of Delegates for a purely partisan event. And who were these applauding dummies sitting in the Virginia state legislative chamber? I am certain they were not the Virginia legislature.

Posted by: MW on January 28, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

I'm telling ya, the guy looks like a blow-dried Max Headroom. Slick back his hair, put some sunglasses on him and stick a can of Coke in his hand and maybe he'll bust a move.

And maybe not. Max had a way of filling up the TV screen and looking bigger than life. McDonnell looked like a small man in a big suit.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 28, 2010 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK
A few quick things to keep in mind. First, the U.S. system isn't the "best in the world."
Steve, he isn't advocating against teh current health care system, he's advocating against the invasion of France (surprisingly), where the Best Health Care System in the World resides ... Posted by: firefall on January 28, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

Being both sane and aged, I went to bed last night, depending on the good folks here to tell me what happened.

So tell me: Did the GOP response come hot on the heels of the POTUS's SOTU? At what time? And, how many (insert Neilson numbers here) people watched it?

Posted by: DAY on January 28, 2010 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

McDonnell's speech could have been written months, maybe years, ago -- sounded like it. He seemed a little stiff and uncomfortable. And I really hate the contrived backdrop of people designed to look sooo inclusive. Ca-ca.

Yes, our state legislators are part-time. They do enough damage during the short time they are in session...in between moments of political posturing.

Posted by: VaLiberal on January 28, 2010 at 11:38 AM | PERMALINK

Remember the movie, 'Chitty Chitty Bang Bang'?

Remember the dense, irritating, dumber-than-dirt Baron Bombous, the ruler of Vulgaria?

Bob McDonnell reminds me a lot of Baron Bombous---and his post-SOTU rersponse does lend a sense of highly-probable credibility to the notion that he's just a tinpot tyrant, lording it over a behind-the-curve fiefdom.

Especially when one compares the coincidences of Virginia and Vulgaria both beginning with a V, both containing four syllables, both consisting of eight letters of the alphabet, both having the letter g in the fourth-place position, and both ending with an i-a....

Posted by: S. Waybright on January 28, 2010 at 11:43 AM | PERMALINK

Firefall's comment about France makes me think -- you never hear about the French right wing trying to privatize their health care system. It's widely viewed as a success, a citizen's right even.

If government involvement in the health care system was so bad you'd think it would be a target of conservatives the world over, but it is not. Not even in Canada! And the Senate's plan comes nowhere close to the level of government involvement in either France or Canada.

Shows you how extreme our American right wing really is. Any compassion in their hearts was removed during the Reagan years and completely replaced with pages upon pages of Austrian School supply and demand curves.

Talk about foreign influence in America! It's not Canada, not France, not England -- but Austria!

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 28, 2010 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

I think we all agree; nobody (Republican or Democrat) wants to turn over the French health care system to the federal government. The French government should run its own health care system. Republicans get excited about the stangest things.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on January 28, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

This guy just got inaugurated a week or so ago, right? So doing the SOTU Response for the GOP is now the exact equivalent of the most junior guy at the office having to make the coffee- a form of hazing.

Posted by: Tim H on January 28, 2010 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Hey MODERATOR.....what's up with the aiisa post above? Well, I guess you've only had 45 minutes so far.

[taken care of. thanks for pointing it out -- mod.]

Posted by: emjayay on January 28, 2010 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

The camera would span over the audience of old white guys, then back to him with this young black woman, a young Asian guy, a thick-neck soldier, and this pretty blond. It was so stupidly obvious that I laughed out loud the first time I recognized the placement.
Seriously, where were the Eskimos?
Posted by: Rochester on January 28, 2010 at 11:10 AM

Rochester, before you embarrass yourself any further:

Actually those people aren’t props. The white woman in the shot is Janet Polarek, secretary of the commonwealth. Above her is Jim Cheng, secretary of commerce and trade. The soldier is Staff Sargeant Robert Tenpenny, who served with the governor’s daughter Jeanine McDonnell in Iraq. Above him is Lisa Hick-Thomas, secretary of administration. That exquisitely diverse group, in other words, is mostly McDonnell’s cabinet.

Posted by: marybel on January 28, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

The first thing that immediately hit me was the stagecraft as others have noted above. Right behind the guv, a military guy, African-American woman, Asian-American man. The audience was mostly white folks, but they managed to find at least one other AA in the room for a close up.

More VA guv comments to be critical of besides those already mentioned: the government shouldn't regulate any industry/business. Right... because (as I explained to my dog, since no other humans were home at the time) we all want to poisoned by our air, water, food and medications, we all want to be maimed or killed by unsafe tools, cars, planes, etc., we all want our bridges to fall and roads to crumble and building to collapse, we all want to be ripped off yet again by the financial industry, etc., etc., etc.

Posted by: Hannah on January 28, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Well, thanks marybel for the explanation. Still it's interesting that he picked those particular people (out of other possibilities) to frame himself. One has to be suspicious about that sort of thing from the party of white.

Posted by: Hannah on January 28, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

ckelly: "It's much harder to be mendacious and dishonest if you actually "look into" these things. It's called plausible deniability."

Looking into things and then saying what you know not to be true is actually a *good* way to be mendacious. It's harder to lie if you honestly don't know better; then, you're just ignorant.

Posted by: Grumpy on January 28, 2010 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

marybel,

Please relay to your friend the guv and his cabinet that some Commonwealth citizens resent our taxpayer-funded legislative chamber being used for strictly partisan politics.

If the guv wanted to give the Republican Response to the SOTU he should have done it at the Republican HQ over on East Grace St.

Or better yet, he should have passed on it and focused on Virginia's school and transportation budget. 11 days in high office is hardly time to assume you are ready to rebut the POTUS on health care and national security.

At least Obama had the courage to address both parties. McDonnell pulled a Bush and stacked the invite-only meeting with his supporters.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 28, 2010 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

What I loved about the stagecraft is that some of the "mixed group" of people behind him, even if they were some of his cabinet members, couldn't even pay attention the whole time. You could see their eyes wandering off. Gov. Blow-dry indeed.

Posted by: Molly Weasley on January 28, 2010 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

What really galls is someone from Virginia railing against government spending and beaurocracy. If the federal government fired every federal employee or contractor located in Virginia, the unemployment rate would skyrocket. They feed off the federal trough more than any other State save Maryland. It's one of the pillars of the Virginia economy. I say we ship those jobs to Michigan where they will be greatly appreciated.

Posted by: MarkJ on January 28, 2010 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

MarkJ, maybe 20 years ago a very astute retired Canadian politician, Eric Kierans, suggested that a tremendous thing for our country would be to relocate our capital from Ottawa to Winnipeg (north of North Dakota). He suggested that many bureaucrats would not want to leave Ottawa and it would be a effective way of cutting back on the size of govt. Perhaps you should lobby for doing similar in USA.

Posted by: Johnny Canuck on January 28, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

At least Obama had the courage to address both parties. McDonnell pulled a Bush and stacked the invite-only meeting with his supporters.
pj @ 12:49

As for Obama's 'courage,' addressing both parties at the SOTU is part of his job.

As for the rest, I posted simply to refute the erroneous assumptions that were being made about the multiracial people sitting behind him.

As for your other beefs, take them up with your governor.

Posted by: marybel on January 28, 2010 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

I loved that snide remark about "behind closed doors with special interests". We need a new cliche for "Hello, Pot; meet Kettle", because the phrase has become shopworn with this Republican crowd. Does he not remember Cheney's hypersecret meeting with all the oil company bigwigs prior to the invasion of Iraq? I bet he made a lot of other people remember it with that remark.

Incidentally, that meeting was so deep-cover that efforts to make him cough up even a list of attendees, never mind the subjects discussed, remain unsuccessful. George W. Bush's administration was the original Behind-Closed-Doors government.

Canada has single-payer healthcare administered by the Federal and Provincial governments, and would not give it up. It has its flaws, but chief among them right now is a shortage of doctors and surgeons. Waiting lists for surgeries - certainly elective but sometimes urgent as well - can be extremely long; that's why those who can afford it going to the U.S. for surgery is far from uncommon. If government-administered single-payer health care is a socialist monster that will wreck the economy, why do Canadian prescription drugs cost so much less than American, sufficiently so that protectionist laws are in effect to guard American pharmacy industries' profits? Especially when many of those drugs are made in the U.S.A to begin with?

Posted by: Mark on January 28, 2010 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

McDonnell lied about the results of the failed-Christmas bomber being arrested and given the same rights as "citizens."

First, it's my understanding that he has been cooperating with authorities and providing valuable information, without being tortured.

Second, if McDonnell would read his constituion, he would see that the bill of rights gaurantees its rights to all "persons" and "accused" (5th, 6th Amends.) not just "citizens."

Posted by: Winkandanod on January 28, 2010 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

marybel states: "As for Obama's 'courage,' addressing both parties at the SOTU is part of his job."

Exactly so. Courage is part of Obama's character and his job description. I don't know of any Republicans who could have carried off such a speech in face of extreme partisanship with such graciousness, good humor and aplomb.

This is why Obama is the President and Governor Blow Dry is delivering petulant, cliched and uninformed talking points while smugly basking in the staged acclaim of his chosen friends on national TV, just like George Bush did.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on January 28, 2010 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

I think the entire point of the speech was to take up time.

Apparently most of the people watching the president's speech were those who agree with his policies. So why not bore the hell out of these folks so they just change the channel and forget about politics...and miss any commentary.

I think the president should turn tables and do his speech last. Let the opposition warm-up the crowd, or tune in late and miss it entirely.

Regardless, I still think these responses backfire to the extent that the speaker is unknown and fails to offer any specifics. Boilerplate is useless following a real infomercial. And remember, an infomercial builds to some conclusion and demands some action. The republican response last night was like a half-hour disclaimer to the previous infomercial. Maybe call it a mis-infomercial.

Posted by: tomj on January 28, 2010 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

That "exquisitely diverse" prop cabinet of the guv's had us cracking up. The black woman looked like she was going to throw up. She kept glancing at someone just off camera and immediately pasting a fake nervous smile on her face as that person gave her the cue. The white woman did a better version of The Gaze than I've seen outside of Nancy Reagan. At one point she actually had tears of adoration in her eyes. Have these people no dignity?

Posted by: allen on January 28, 2010 at 4:22 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't it still against military policy for a soldier to appear at a partisan function in uniform?

Posted by: kraftysue on January 28, 2010 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

There's a movement to radically change California government, by getting rid of career politicians and chopping their salaries in half. A group known as Citizens for California Reform wants to make the California legislature a part time time job, just like it was until 1966.

Posted by: jimmy on February 2, 2010 at 2:52 AM | PERMALINK
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