Because opposition-party responses to the State of the Union are generally awful and embarrassing for everyone involved, expectations surrounding these speeches are exceedingly low. It's basically come to this: if you can avoid giving fodder to the late-night comedy shows, congratulations, you've succeeded. Welcome to the wonderful world of pass/fail politics.
To that end, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the House Republican Conference chair and the only woman to serve in a Republican leadership role in either chamber, cleared the low bar. She seemed perfectly pleasant and had a nice personal backstory to tell.
Watching McMorris Rodgers, I kept wishing it were an interview in which her claims could be subjected to follow-up questions. Stylistically, the congresswoman was fine. Substantively, nearly all of her speech fell somewhere between vague and incoherent.
Consider this line on health care policy:
"Republicans believe health care choices should be yours, not the government's."
Unless, of course, you want access to contraception, in which case Republicans believe health care choices should be based on your boss' religious beliefs, not your own personal choices.
"[W]e shouldn't go back to the way things were, but this law is not working."
Putting aside the fact that the law is working
, if McMorris Rodgers doesn't want to go back to the way things were, why did she vote more than 40 times to repeal the law, replace it with nothing, and go back to the way things were?
"We see this [opportunity] gap growing every single day. We see it in our neighbors who are struggling to find jobs. A husband who's now working just part-time. A child who drops out of college because she can't afford tuition. Or parents who are outliving their life's savings."
McMorris Rodgers hasn't voted for a credible jobs bill in three years; she voted for a budget plan that slashed college aid; and she's supported cutting social-insurance programs for the elderly, including replacing Medicare with a voucher scheme. By her own reasoning, doesn't that mean McMorris Rodgers is making the "opportunity gap" worse?
"So we hope the president will join us in a year of real action by empowering people, not making their lives harder with unprecedented spending...."
Does McMorris Rodgers know that federal spending levels have been flat the last several years, which is the opposite of "unprecedented spending"? For that matter, in what universe do federal investments make Americans' lives harder?
The Washington Republican didn't sound like Kenneth the Page. She didn't have to stop for water half-way through. She didn't put anyone to sleep. But her response to the State of the Union was completely detached from the actual State of the Union and McMorris Rodgers made a series of claims that seemed almost bizarre when subjected to any scrutiny at all.
To this extent, it was a missed opportunity.