If you stepped back and looked at the big picture, it was pretty amazing: An African American man stood in the House chamber and gave his fifth State of the Union speech, and then the son of Cuban immigrants gave the opposition party's response. It was a moment the country could be proud of.
If you focused more tightly on the speeches themselves, however, the earth did not move.
Let me clarify: I thought President Obama's address was probably the best he had ever delivered in that august setting. All the ritual and ceremony of the SOTU tend to muffle Obama's rhetoric, but there was ringing clarity in his call for Congress to act on gun violence. The way he hammered home that emotional plea on behalf of the victims — "They deserve a vote!" — was like righteous thunder.
But I heard nothing to make me more confident that Congress will do as the president asked and vote on gun-control measures that would actually make a difference — much less pass such legislation. The same was true for the president's proposals on economic growth, debt reduction, energy, climate change, education…. With the possible exception of immigration reform, I'm not sure I heard one issue on which the prospects for bold legislative action are promising.
Instead, I heard a president determined to do what he can through executive action. He seemed almost resigned to another year of sour gridlock.
Marco Rubio's GOP response will be remembered for his awkward lunge for the water bottle. That's a shame, because the speech itself was remarkable. Not in a good way.
At a moment when the Republican Party needs rebranding, Rubio offered nothing new. The thrust of his speech was "government bad, capitalism good." Yet he recounted how beneficial government assistance has been to his own success. I expected him to resolve the contradiction, but he didn't even try.
Someday, maybe Rubio will take the leap and begin to outline a 21st-century vision for the GOP. It would be good for the country if he did. Also if he remembered to hydrate.