February 03, 2005

Weak Democratic Response

I did not enjoy the Democratic Response to the State of the Union. A number of observations:

- Inherent disadvantage. Pelosi did the last response alongside Daschle (who was actually stiffer and meeker than Reid was) and now he lost his reelection bid, not by party politics or primary loss but by the power of the President to unseat a previously popular Senator from his seat. Daschle repeatedly won elections in South Dakota, but Bush and his coattails help push Thune over the victory line. But what's really substantive is that Daschle lost pandering to Bush supporters - portraying himself as an ally of Bush, a supporter of the tax cuts and a pro-war, pro-defense populist.

This is substantial, because it means even running a strongly centrist- or conservative-leaning campaign couldn't save Daschle, who as Democratic leader had access to comparatively huge levels of pork. If Daschle lost under those circumstances, then it definitely puts Reid and Pelosi in a very weak position to follow Bush.

- Pelosi's delivery sucked. She was reading her speech straight off the screen and lacked most basic human expression. She moved her face a little, her head a few times, and eventually her hands flailed a little bit, almost coordinated to her speech. Very weak delivery because she had no human presence. She didn't convey gravity when she spoke of tragic events or optimism when she spoke of Democratic agenda items. The only emotion I got was when she smiled for a minute or two at the beginning.

She seemed to be fairly proficient with the words and her pace was decent, but the cadence was off. She read as though the words meant nothing. I couldn't be bothered to pay attention (seriously, my girlfriend and I spent most of her later speech discussing Pelosi's supposed surgery). After all, if she couldn't be interested in her speech despite believing in it, why should I listen to it when I know I'll disagree with most of it?

I wanted to watch to see if she said anything substantial by either supporting a very good idea or opposing a very good one, but it was boring. I didn't even find something to easily hate her for, so I couldn't get any of that listen-to-people-you-hate energy going. Just kinda boring.

- I didn't like Reid's backstory attempt. It sounded sort of vain, very self-serving, very contrived, entirely cliched, but mostly it seemed irrelevant. Why did he bother to tell us this? I don't give a fuck if his parents were Punjabi Sikhs who worked in an all-night mortuary in Silver Butte, Montana; how does that affect me as a voter and a political observer? Just seemed like he was going out of his way to tell us a very cliched, sappy story about how he represents down-home values and so forth.

Upon reflection I realized he was playing up style because he lacked substance in ideas. He didn't really offer anything major. Blah blah outsourcing, health care, blah blah education and values. Pretty standard. He tried to get into big stuff about the future, changing world and new stuff but then he pulled out the typical Democratic plan of "let's spend a lot until it works" with only the slightest surface changes. He didn't have any new ideas, he had only opposition to Bush and down-home style to fall back on. Pathetic.

- Reid cynically pandered to us. He used two references to God - in itself, hardly a capital crime. But the way he used them is both cliched and condescending. The first was describing his parents as good people, where he included the phrase "worshipped God." The second was when he called for more social spending because we're "all God's children." Not horrible, certainly not new, but very amateur. I don't know why, this just completely rubs me the wrong way.

Combine it with some of his other tactics - the sappy cliche of little Devon might as well have been Little Timmy asking Champ to hit him a home run so he could finally get up and walk - and he's insulting us all. When he referenced "questions that are about old-fashioned moral values that don't get talked about much in Washington" it really came off as contrived.

Seriously amateur speech, stiff performance. He had more life than Pelosi, but it just wasn't very exciting and I didn't feel like he offered any new ideas, any serious proposals, or anything that deserved to be put into a bill.

- They relied on emotional appeals, social-traditionalist innuendo and vaguely xenophobic viewpoints. And they didn't even do it very well. First there's all that stuff from above where Reid calls on God, the trite story about Devon and the "old-fashioned..." line. But beyond that, he commented that "unless we give all Americans the skills they need to succeed, countries like India and China will take good-paying jobs that should be ours." I really don't like that. Why not just say they're stealing our jobs? "They took yer job!"

Overall, the Democrats didn't give us any agenda items. Bush wins here because he's totally setting the agenda. It helps that he's an incumbent President returned with a wider Congressional majority, but the Democrats don't have any real counter proposals.

What were their even somewhat specific proposals? Two examples:
- "a G.I. Bill of Rights for the 21st Century"
- "a Marshall Plan for America"

Not only are their ideas old, but now they can't be bothered to even come up with new names when they repackage the same, tired tax-and-spend programs. No vision, no reforms, no changes; they just want to spend more, buy more and build more. It's as though they think every situation calls for a New Deal-like response, with massive fiscal spending to salve any wound.

They should have broken with the leader tradition and put in Obama and Dean - the only two national Democrats creating any positive buzz at all right now. Pelosi and Reid don't have star power, charisma or ideas to combat Bush, who is far from unbeatable there. I know Obama is a freshman and Dean isn't anything right now, but they're so much more interesting than Pelosi and Reid. They also might actually offer some IDEAS.

And as a sidenote, Pelosi said we need to stop the "genocide" in Sudan. This is a legally binding term, and actually requires that all contracting parties to the genocide convention intervene to prevent it and to punish the transgessors. The State Department and the foreign ministries around the world go through great lengths to avoid using the term until they wanted to intervene. If it is genocide, then the US is legally obligated to intervene. Nobody enforces that, except it would unravel the lie of the genocide convention.