February 6, 2013

Marco Rubio is going to give the Republican response to Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address this year. My only question: Why? Why would he want to do that?

The SOTU response is, basically, a no-win proposition. It’s very difficult to give it well. After all, the president of the United States has such a huge advantage, speaking in the House chamber with a cheering audience, usually for an extended time. Out parties have tried a variety of formats, but none of them comes close to matching the democratic pageant of the SOTU — and by the time the response is given, no one really wants to sit still for another speech, anyway.

On top of that, while most responses are personalized, the speech has to stick to the general party platform. That’s not necessarily going to be in the comfort zone for every speaker.

Consequently, most responses get lousy reviews, which can’t be very good for the politicians who gives them.

The few that are well-received, however…it’s hard to see help much, either. To be sure, it can help an obscure politician get noticed by the national press, but then again not all that many obscure politicians get to give the response. If it’s someone such as Rubio — who already had a major speech with plenty of coverage this year — that doesn’t really apply.

And since so many SOTU responses go badly, there’s not even the default reason for doing it — that a senator who has the opportunity might as well do it, because if not someone else will.

I suppose there’s always the temptation for any politician to believe that he or she is simply a better speaker than others, and therefore this one will go well. But it’s not about the people involved; it’s the format. If I were advising Rubio, I would have told him to just pass on this assignment. There’s just nothing in it for him.