Sorry, Senator Rubio (R/FL)--you're an also-ran again this week. Perk up, though--you're the only one to make the runners-up cut every week since this series began.
To be fair, Rubio might have made it if he hadn't been working under some structural disadvantages. He was picked to give the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night. His first structural disadvantage was that he is not President Obama, or even close. He came across like a college kid addressing his campus's Young Republicans group for the first time: a little shaky, constantly wiping sweat from his face...and then there was that awkward lunge for a water bottle that his staff should have had close at hand. That lunge was probably choreographed in advance, to make people forget about the nonsense that was dribbling from Rubio's mouth.
His second structural advantage was that to give the "response" to a SOTU address moments after the actual address means that the response has to be written and rehearsed before you know what will be in the actual speech. So, as is typically the case, Rubio was "responding" to things he thinks the president believes, but that the president did not actually say.
For instance, Rubio said: "Presidents in both parties – from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan – have known that our free enterprise economy is the source of our middle class prosperity. But President Obama? He believes it’s the cause of our problems. That the economic downturn happened because our government didn’t tax enough, spend enough and control enough. And, therefore, as you heard tonight, his solution to virtually every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more and spend more. "
Did the president say any of that? Of course not, because the president's not an idiot.
He did say this: "It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth – a rising, thriving middle class. It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country – the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love. It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation."
To me, that sounds like he's praising the free enterprise system, not attacking it. He did not even mention the reasons for the economic downturn, so Rubio is putting thoughts into his head and "responding" to something that didn't happen.
Another Rubio gem was this: "We were all heartbroken by the recent tragedy in Connecticut. We must effectively deal with the rise of violence in our country. But unconstitutionally undermining the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans is not the way to do it."
I don't know if Rubio has read District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruling that affirmed the right for private citizens to possess firearms. But if he's going to talk about such important issues before a national audience, he really should. He would see that there's nothing in that opinion--written by Antonin Scalia, one of the most conservative justices in American history--that says any of the administration's gun control proposals are remotely unconsitutional. Rubio pretends that of all the amendments, the Second is somehow a blanket statement, allowing no shadings, no interpretations or limitations. That just isn't the case, and if Rubio was a smart guy, he would understand that.
Rubio continued with this: "In the short time I’ve been here in Washington, nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the ones the President laid out tonight. The choice isn’t just between big government or big business. What we need is an accountable, efficient and effective government that allows small and new businesses to create middle class jobs."
That's his "response" to a choice the president didn't offer. In fact, the president spoke the words already provided above, about the government encouraging free enterprise. Most of the ideas he offered about government involvment in the economy were about government partnering with or encouraging private industries to work to grow the economy. He added, "Nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime. It is not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth."
Rubio complains about the president wanting to "tax more" without mentioning that the president didn't offer a single suggestion about raising anybody's taxes. He did talk about closing loopholes, which was an approach that Mitt Romney favored during the campaign and other Republicans, including Speaker John Boehner (R/OH) have advocated as recently as the last couple of months. And Obama has already been accepting massive spending cuts and shrinking the deficit. Not a word about that from Rubio.
Discussing (I think) the president's call to take action on climate change, Rubio said this: "When we point out that no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather – he accuses us of wanting dirty water and dirty air."
Confounding climate change with controlling the weather doesn't say anything about the president's actual words, but it does tell us that when Rubio said, "I'm not a scientist, man," he might never have spoken truer words in his life.
And, Marco--Solyndra? Really? Didn't work for Mitt, doesn't work now. There's no there, there. At least he didn't harp on Benghazi, which probably means that Lindsey Graham is putting a hold on Rubio's Senate bathroom privileges until Rubio explains why he skipped it.
Finally, both Rubio and Rand Paul (who presented the official Tea Party response) called for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution. This is one of the worst ideas ever, completely eliminating the capability for the nation to respond to any kind of emergency or change in situation. It's something that certain people think sounds good if they haven't put much thought into it. These guys are elected senators, though--they're supposed to think. Clearly, they don't.
So if all that isn't enough to make Rubio this week's winner, who beat him?
That honor goes to Rep. Steve Stockman (R/TX), for the insane idea of bringing as his guest to the State of the Union has-been rocker, attention whore, and pro-gun death activist Ted Nugent. Last year, Nugent was investigated by the Secret Service for saying that if Obama was re-elected, “I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.” When the Secret Service visited him, his moral cowardice took over and he didn't have the courage to stand behind his own statement. Easy to talk tough when there's nobody in your face, isn't it, Teddy?
For bringing a rock star who stank even when he was popular and hasn't been popular in decades, whose biggest claim to fame is making a thinly veiled threat he's afraid to repeat, to a joint session of the United State Congress on the occasion of the State of the Union address by the president said rocker had threatened to assassinate, Steve Stockman is this week's big winner. Keep it classy, Stockman. You unbelievable idiot.
In addition to perennial runner-up Rubio, this week's runners-up list has to include lunatic pro-gun death advocate Wayne LaPierre. And remember, folks, "anti-gun control" is the wrong way to describe these people. Always use the far more accurate "pro-gun death." Joining them on the list is Speaker Boehner, whose continuing assault on jobs and recovery includes this economically devastating approach to the looming disaster of sequester.
In the alternative category of people who did smart and decent things this week, we have to give props to Sen. John McCain (R/AZ) and Rep. Ron Barber (D/AZ) for jointly hosting Gabby Giffords at the SOTU session. Her presence there was moving, and President Obama's repetitive callout was one of the most powerful, emotional moments I remember in all the years I've been watching these speeches: "Hadiya’s parents, Nate and Cleo, are in this chamber tonight, along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence. They deserve a vote. Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence – they deserve a simple vote."
[That appreciation for McCain, though, has to be offset by the fact that, while on Monday McCain said that filibustering the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense would "set a wrong precedent," on Thursday he voted in favor of said filibuster anyway. Nice way to stick to your principles, John. And, by the way, if Senate Republicans will filibuster (for the first time in our history) a potential SecDef, of their own party, who just happens to be a wounded war hero, during a war? What won't they do? What new low will they achieve next week?]
Also this week, George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson reminds us of the 10-year anniversary of President Bush's greatest single achievement: the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which did much to control the spread of that horrible plague and might have saved millions of lives. There's not much in Bush's legacy to be proud of, but this one stands out as a shining example.