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January 29, 2014 1:07 PM Oh, Now I Get It: Emptiness Is What They Were Going For

By Ed Kilgore

Readers of my live blog last night may recall I was enormously underwhelmed by the official Republican Response to the SOTU by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (I guess you could say calling the speech “Republican Rhetoric for Dummies” is a sign of being underwhelmed). I was thus flummoxed by the generally positive reaction to Rodgers from most everyone else other than Charlie Pierce. I mean, she didn’t say much of anything, and said it in this slow, syllable-articulating, talking-to the-tiny-chirrens kind of voice.

But ah, now I learned today from Robert Costa, who knows these birds a lot better than most of us, that this is what they were going for:

It was all there — easygoing populism, an emphasis on jobs and her family, which includes a son with Down syndrome and a Navy veteran husband. It was as if a Republican pollster had somehow created a politician with the exact profile that Republicans are looking to promote as they head toward this year’s midterm elections. Here was a pro-life, never-offensive Republican woman from a Western state who grew up picking apples on a farm; a youthful, 44-year-old Republican who is known as one of the most savvy social-media users in the House, uploading countless photos to Instagram and videos to Vine.
Even better, there was no unfortunate reach for a water bottle, as painfully endured by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) last year in his response, or the kind of awkward articulation that caused long-lasting headaches for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal in 2009, when he delivered the Republican response to an Obama economic speech. Instead, it was a relatively smooth delivery, with the congresswoman whisking through her scripted remarks on a gold couch, a triangularly-folded American flag on a shelf behind her.
No drama, no problems.

Also no substance. But I digress.

The essence of the speech was soft outreach and balance. “I’d like to share a more hopeful Republican vision,” McMorris Rodgers said.
She criticized the president without going overboard. She talked about repealing the Affordable Care Act but didn’t use a rhetorical hammer to make the point. On policy, she touched upon economic growth and fiscal reform, but never dove into the weeds, frustrating some conservative onlookers and fulfilling the unsaid part of her duties: sound winsome and engaging, but do not make news.

I don’t know what bugs me more: that a televised “response” was apparently designed to lull the viewer into a sort of warm-bath glow without cognition, or that an observer as smart as Robert Costa winds up his “analysis” by wondering why GOPers didn’t use this wondrous weapon earlier and often.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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