I think you’d be hard-pressed to argue this isn’t the speech that Obama’s progressive supporters wanted to hear. Sure, some might have wanted more outright condemnation of Republicans, but that wouldn’t have really fit the occasion. I’m not afraid of partisanship myself, but a SOTU is probably not the most natural place for it. The ending about gun violence was easily the most resonant and memorable moment yet in an Obama SOTU, but the strong climate change marker will likely wind up being the most significant and substantive (and welcomed by me as long overdue). Given that Obama mentioned climate change either very little or not at all in his last couple State of the Unions speeches, it was a striking change. Obama’s performance was strong overall I thought, he seemed loose and confident, tone perfect as always. Minuses for lack of a firm proposal on voting reform and vagueness on drone/GWOT types of things, though I suppose the fact that he brought them up at all, and felt compelled to defend them, is a sign of progress I suppose.

Rubio’s response was…adequate. Which is a victory in and of itself. He seemed personable enough, and his voice wasn’t gratingly awful. Body language seemed very much out of a can, very “politiciany” for what that’s worth. And the content was truly awful. There wasn’t any theme to it, just hitting all the Republican bases while trying to sound reasonable and non-scary. Mitt Romney said nearly the same thing on every issue except immigration. There was no real soundbite to go viral, since it seems as though we’ve heard very close variations on every idea here so many times before, with little freshness. The speech itself contained little personality, outside from a few personal details about his upbringing. It sort of meandered from topic to topic, like a State of the Union speech, which is not a comparison you want to draw in this position. The gold standard for a response like this continues to be Sen. Jim Webb’s response to George Bush’s 2007 speech, in which Webb was brief and stuck to a theme in making his critiques of Bush. Rubio took quite a while and landed few blows, didn’t really give much to stick. And then there was that hilarious grab for a water bottle. Seemed almost like he was channeling the (now inevitable) future Saturday Night Live parody of his performance.


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