The president’s State of the Union address may be a hard act to follow, but the opposition party has insisted on doing so since 1966, when Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) and Rep. Gerald Ford (R-Mich.) followed President Johnson in the nation’s first televised rebuttal.
The rebuttals are usually delivered without an audience, robbing them of the pomp, circumstance, and hour-long handshake-a-palooza of the president’s address. The objective has been to critique the president’s policies while offering an alternative vision for the country. In recent years, however, the opposition party’s rebuttals have been lighter on the alternative vision and heavier on the critique.
“We face a crushing burden of debt,” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) in 2011. “The debt will soon eclipse our entire economy and grow to catastrophic levels in the years ahead.”
Instead of cutting, we saw an unprecedented explosion of government spending and debt,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in the official Tea Party rebuttal of 2011. “It was unlike anything we have ever seen before in the history of the country. “
Bachmann was the first Tea Partier to make additional remarks after the official Republican response, though she was careful to mention that the two speeches were not at odds. She also notoriously failed to look directly into the camera lens when giving her speech, an accident which garnered as much media attention as the speech itself. The following year, businessman and presidential candidate Herman Cain spoke for the Tea Party.
“In a word,” Cain said, “I heard the speech and it came across as a hodgepodge of little ideas.”
Tuesday night, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) will deliver the official Republican response and Rep. Ran Paul (R-Ken.) will give the official Tea Party response.