Obama Presented His State-Led Policy Agenda – Rubio Proposed The GOP Alternative – Good Message, But An Ill At Ease Messenger Who Seemed At Times Overwhelmed

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By Paolo von Schirach

February 13, 2013

WASHINGTON – Only hubris can explain the obvious disconnect between Obama’s re-election by a decent but hardly overwhelming margin and the rather grandiose agenda of more federal programs involving various sectors that he outlined in the State of the Union message.

Divided America

It is true that Obama run for re-election as the champion of state intervention and as the defender of entitlements and benefits for the poor and retirees. And it is true that on this basis a majority of Americans voted for him. But it is also true that almost half the country did not agree. So much so that the Republicans, certainly opposed to this interventionist plan, kept control of the House.

Looking at what is clearly an America deeply in debt and politically divided almost in the middle, a wise re-elected leader would propose to stabilize public spending safeguarding the needs of the poor and most vulnerable, while pushing tax reforms aimed at reigniting growth. He would try to do all this by seeking genuine compromise with the other side.

Obama: a political agenda

But no, Obama is not doing any of this. Having observed that the House Republicans are quarreling with one another on what should be the best conservative, “small government” agenda, Obama seems to be bent on exploiting these internal divisions attempting to defeat the GOP politically by proposing taxes that some Republicans would accept and others would reject. In other words, Obama, a second term President not running for re-election, is still campaigning against an admittedly not so formidable GOP. Great strategy, revealing cunning and political dexterity; but a lousy way of governing.

Be that as it may, in the State of the Union message Obama dished out his partisan list with proposed new federal programs for almost anything, with predictable applause coming from all the Democrats in the audience and cool Republican reactions.

It is obvious that, without GOP participation, none of these Obama initiatives will become law. So why produce them? Well, for political reasons. As a way to create fissures among Republicans, just as Obama did with the tax issue.

Indeed, even though higher taxes will do very little in any effort to fix the deficit, the controversial issue divided the House Republicans, undermining the authority of House Speaker John Boehner. Again, lousy policy-making; but great politics.

GOP rebuttal

And what is the GOP alternative to all this? I am afraid the Republicans have a lot of work to do, and I mean a lot. They picked rather green Florida Senator Marco Rubio to deliver the rebuttal to the President’s Address.

Unfortunately on TV a polished delivery counts almost as much, if not more, than substance. Rubio’s delivery was not so great. Here and there he appeared uncomfortable if not overwhelmed. (Yes, I refer to his awkward reaching out for water in the middle of a solemn speech and to his obvious nervousness displayed in other moments). The indirect message that the public got from this man who appeared uncomfortable in his role as national GOP spokesman is that the GOP does not have a strong national leader. Marco Rubio did not appear ready for prime time.

Rubio as national GOP spokesman?

That said, it was not a disaster. Rubio did a good job explaining the fundamental philosophical differences between a Republican vision whereby in America the Government does little while enabling the private sector to unleash growth and the statist Obama vision whereby growth is good only if it is properly balanced via government action.

Rubio did propose a decent and credible GOP alternative. Even though he formulated it in his own words, with a lot (probably too many) of autobiographical references, it is the same vision of a private sector-led economy proposed by Mitt Romney last November.

Give or take a few details, there is nothing wrong with it. And quite frankly it is certainly more in line with American mainstream values and history. The problem is that a majority of Americans (although not a huge majority) today do not buy it, as Obama’s re-election proved.

Better messenger?

The GOP needs a good national spokesman to convince the public that its vision should become national policy. Many Republican Governors sold it successfully to state audiences. So, it can gain national traction. Still, given what I have seen so far, I am not so sure that Marco Rubio is the right man to sell it.

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