The SOTU Response is the Lucy Van Pelt Football of Politics

Politicians crave being the one who “gets to” respond to the state of the union address. Yet Rubio is one of a series of people who came out minimized (see also Jindal, Bobby). Even when they are delivered competently (see Daniels, Mitch), they are swiftly forgotten.

Yet no one seems able to resist the siren song of a SOTU response, and as a result many end up yelling “Aaaaaaauuugghh!” as soon as they land painfully on the ground.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

18 thoughts on “The SOTU Response is the Lucy Van Pelt Football of Politics”

  1. Poor guy. I’m as much into shadenfreude as the next guy, but geez, he bent awkwardly and drank some water! Get over it, people!

    On the other hand, I suppose this bit of inept stagecraft, had it happened to Obama, would have been blown into something enormous. Sauce for the goose … (and did you hear Obama uses a teleprompter?)

  2. Funny. He is verbalizing about “false choices”…
    And then is faced with a choice of getting water competently…
    Or getting water incompetently by trying to maintain eye contact with a camera.

    On another note:

    I know Rubio is being sold as the republican savior…
    But I tend to be pretty shrewd when it comes to judging physiognomy and public perception.
    This guy comes off brutish.
    Not sure he is gonna fly with the base in Peoria OK, Peoria Ohio, Peoria IN, or Peoria….

  3. I have to say that I find the media’s focus on (often superficial) outward appearances unfortunate (it’s not just a recent phenomenon; think Howard Dean, who fell victim to noise-filtering technology [1]).

    There is plenty to critique about the contents of Marco Rubio’s speech — I mean, the question is, where do you start? –, yet all the media seem to be talking about is that one aspect of his delivery. One could wish they were able to rise above a Gawker level of discourse. (And no, the British and German media aren’t any better — “watergate” cracks as far as the eye can see.)

    In a way, that may actually be good for the Republicans: plenty of people are going to realize that this is not actually a substantive critique, yet it allows them to sidestep hard policy questions.

    [1] Ironically, the Fox News coverage was more accurate in that regard than that of other media.

    1. I wrote: In a way, that may actually be good for the Republicans: plenty of people are going to realize that this is not actually a substantive critique, yet it allows them to sidestep hard policy questions.

      I’m now seeing that Brian Beutler made the the same point earlier, only better.

      1. It goes back well before Howard Dean in theTV age. Mike Deaver is the one who truly perfected the concept that the image is everything. That’s why nothing in a camera shot of Reagan (Mt Rushmore in the background for example) was ever an accident.

        It has to be said though that Rubio knows this, and yet he did what he did, which will suggest to many people that he isn’t ready for the big time.

        1. If Mr. Rubio is anything he is ambitious.
          He practically sweats it.

          When ambitious people make asses of themselves at critical moments in their ambition, of course the world is going to point, chortle, and pile on. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. He had weeks to prepare a ready glass of water. How hard is that? It’s like showing up to teach a class without notes, dry erase pens, and your fly undone…

        2. I agree, but my concern isn’t Marco Rubio. The victim I’m seeing here is the level of public discourse we are getting. Politicians since time immemorial have been required to have skills beyond mastery of policy, and that’s not a problem; but that doesn’t mean our media have to restyle themselves as gossip sheets.

    2. “[1] Ironically, the Fox News coverage was more accurate in that regard than that of other media.”

      Nothing particularly ironic about this, it’s to be expected. Fox lacks a partisan motive to attack Rubio, while the other outlets have such a motive. But the other outlets confront a problem in this regard: If they offer a substantive attack on Rubio, it will have it’s greatest success with people who are already in their camp, and thus be wasted. While it may actually backfire among the people who they want to alienate from Rubio, Republican voters, because those voters will evaluate the substantive content from different premises, and may actually approve of what outrages liberals.

      So, in attacking him in the cause of hurting him among Republican voters, the other networks rationally will concentrate on non-substantive attacks which have no particular partisan salience. “He’s a dork!” works on everybody, precisely because it ISN’T issue oriented.

      While Fox has no particular motive to avoid substantive issues which will be of interest to their audience.

      Of course, one should never discount the possibility that most journalists are morons with no particular expertese regarding anything other than journalism itself, and thus are simply incapable of identifying substantive problems with a public address, let alone in real time. (The global warming/asteroid problem.)

  4. Anyway, it’s a bit late in the game to start complaining about the Trivializing of American Politics.

  5. I think there’s a plausible case to be made that Dean and Rubio both benefited from their faux pas.

    Dean had already lost Iowa in such a way that he was almost certainly washed up in that election, but folks look back and blame the scream. Rubio spouted a lot of nonsense, but nobody is going to talk about it, and – as Brett shows – the Right gets to act all persecuted and aggrieved. Win win!

    1. I think there’s a plausible case to be made that Dean and Rubio both benefited from their faux pas.

      Could be, but you didn’t make it. If Dean *benefited* from the scream, then why didn’t he prosper afterwards? To prove that he was being hurt by other problems as well does not prove that he benefited from the scream — where is the evidence for that the scream was good for his campaign or his career or his influence?

      And the Bellmore faction’s reaction is irrelevant for Rubio, he’s got those people already no matter what he does. What matters is what low information swing voters think, and for them this was a bad introduction.

      1. I think you’d have to be pretty darn “low information” to be unaware that people get thirsty, and typically drink water to relieve this condition. Seriously, the only word I can think of that adequately describes the reaction to Rubio drinking water on national TV is “hysterical”. It makes that fuss over that “rats” ad look sensible.

        If this is all critics of Rubio have, the man is untouchable.

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