One measure of how much Barack Obama has grown over his four years in office was Marco Rubio’s speech last night. I don’t just mean the cotton-mouthed diction, the furtive search for that tiny bottle of Poland Springs, or the high school debating team delivery, for he has the skills to surmount his oratorical infelicities over time. No, it wasn’t so much his style. It was his substance. What a hypocrite. The opposition’s response to the State of the Union, first given by Everett Dirksen and Gerald Ford in 1966, is a delicate matter, for on this night the president reports to the country in his role as leader of the nation, not simply of his party. Not to sound too naïve, but some sense of protocol would demand that the response rise above the slash-and-burn partisan invective we saw last night, filled as it was with straw men and taking aim at things the president did not say but that his opponents have long insisted he stands for. On this night, at least, the president need not be presented as a cartoon character.
But Rubio has a deeper problem. His overriding message of damning the government that has been his only career and praising the private sector, which he has experienced primarily through campaign donors, was kind of irritating. And as he listed the government programs that have benefited him and his family – from student aid to Medicare – I waited in vain for a single word that might have tempered the shrillness. Gratitude.