Tuesday night, in all there were four responses to the president’s State of the Union address (plus a repeat of the regular one in Spanish). It’s pretty amazing when you consider that the address itself was pretty much always just a letter until Woodrow Wilson. But it speaks to just how screwed up the Republican Party is that they can’t manage to have just a single speech they can unify around. It is an outgrowth of the revolutionary nature of the conservative movement. It also speaks to the narcissism of some of their stars: most notably Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.
You may have heard that Cruz accidentally released an unedited version of his talk where he is shown stopping and starting over. It is actually kind of impressive — especially if you compare it to the over-rehearsed creep show that was the official response by Jodi Ernst. Cruz manages to make his points very well without ums and uhs, on the fly. I would be surprised if 5% of the federal level politicians were capable of this feat. When it comes to this kind of stuff, there is no doubt that Cruz is a major talent.
But Cruz is also a freak. The speech that he did release is filled with the usual conservative nonsense. And it sums up exactly what conservative pundits have been complaining about since then. His big complaint is that Obama didn’t show up repentant. Republicans are really good about claiming that the last election means the American people totally support them when they won that election, and ignoring it if they haven’t. Well, as I wrote over and over after they lost in 2012: there was no reason for any given Republican politician to “moderate.” They were still in office. They didn’t lose. And the idea of a “mandate” is generally silly regardless.
In 2010, after the Republicans had a really successful election, Obama was a fool to act as though the election meant anything at all for him. The only thing that had changed was the composition of the electorate. Almost no one had changed their minds. And regardless, Obama was elected for four years — not two. If the Republicans acted as arrogant in 2009 after the landslide of the 2008 election, how dare Cruz suggest that the president should come before Congress with his hat in his hand? But I understand: it’s all politics. Cruz knows this, of course; but he also knows that he’s talking to people who hate Obama and would hate him no matter what they did.
A good example of this was Cruz’s complaint about Obama on terrorism. This is what he said:
More generally, the conservative press has been all abuzz with the idea that Obama did not specifically mention al-Qaeda. There are always specific words that conservatives complain about the president not mentioning. It isn’t that he doesn’t talk about concepts. He mentioned “terrorist” once, “terrorism” once, and “terrorists” six times. But that isn’t good enough. He had to mention “al-Qaeda” — or according to Ted Cruz, “radical Islamic terrorism.” I wonder if “radical Islamic terrorist” would have been acceptable. This also goes along with the freak-out during the 2012 election that Obama had said “acts of terror” rather than “terrorism” after the Benghazi attack.
But this isn’t just affectation. This really gets to the heart of the revolutionary nature of the Republican Party. For outsiders, there is nothing that really separates the thinking of Jodi Ernst, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Curt Clawson, who gave the “official” Tea Party response. But inside the conservative movement, there are big disagreements. This is real Russian Revolution nonsense where the exact words that one uses indicates purity to the true (in this case) conservative movement. It is a joke. Unfortunately, it isn’t a funny one like Monty Python brought us.